Sean Wilentz's lengthy book review of several Lincoln biographies isn't up on The New Republic's website yet, [actually it is, my bad] but his criticism of several books on Lincoln--and his general objection to the "two Lincolns" narrative that rejects the fact that Lincoln was anti-slavery to begin with, may offer some insight into President Obama's perplexing stances on gay rights.
Wilentz objects to an academic trend he sees as priviledging radicals over politicians, which he feels fails to take into account the exigencies of politics and what brilliant politicians are able to accomplish. More specifically, in one part of the review, he takes Skip Gates to task for taking Lincoln's words at face value only when it suits his preconcieved narrative of who Lincoln was:
He takes Lincoln's words at face value when it suits his own arguments--such as his remarks to the Chicago ministers in September 1862 about black military incompetence--but he is unable to see Lincoln for what his finest biographers have shown he was: a shrewd leader who could give misleading and even false impressions when he wanted to do so, and made no public commitments until the moment was ripe.
Lincoln made a number of statements, that, viewed out of context, would cause us to question his commitment to ending slavery, most notably his statement, responding to liberal Republican editor Horace Greeley that he was determined to save the Union whether it meant freeing all of the slaves or freeing none of them. Wilentz points out that this statement was meant to shore up Lincoln's right flank during the election, but did not actually contradict his anti-slavery views or goals--Lincoln had already secretly begun drafting the Emancipation Proclaimation.