My last contribution to New York Times weighs Obama, Lincoln, and the art of political compromise, with some history of the Professional Left.
Rendering the hallowed Proclamation as a seminal act of hippy-punching is understandably attractive to the Very Serious People of Washington. But, in Mr. Obama's case, it also evinces a narrow politicocentric view of democracy that holds that the first duty of a loyal opposition is to stay on message and fall in line.In fact, many of Lincoln's most vociferous critics welcomed the Proclamation. Wendell Phillips, who once derided Lincoln as "the slave-hound of Illinois," claimed the Proclamation as "the people's triumph." Frederick Douglass, who helped wage a primary campaign against the president in 1864 and once charged that Lincoln was "a genuine representative of American prejudice and negro hatred," hailed the Proclamation as "the greatest event of our nation's history."Douglass was not delusional. With a wave of his pen, Lincoln freed tens of thousands of slaves and opened the Army to blacks, an act that Lincoln himself once derided. "Never before had so large a number of slaves been declared free," writes historian Eric Foner in his Pulitzer Prize-winning history, "The Fiery Trial." "The proclamation altered the nature of the Civil War, the relationship of the federal government to slavery, and the course of American history. It liquidated the largest concentration of property in the United States. ... Henceforth, freedom would follow the American flag." In sum, it's true that the Proclamation was a compromise. But hailing it merely as such is akin to hailing "Moby-Dick" for being a book -- technically correct, if painfully thickwitted.
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