I made this comparison the other day in my U.S. survey class, but it sounds more authoritative coming from Eric Foner:
Many comparisons between Lincoln and Obama have no historical merit. One that has validity is that both made their national reputations through oratory rather than long careers of public service. Lincoln held no public office between 1849 and his election. Obama served briefly in the Illinois legislature and US Senate, but had no significant legislative accomplishment. It was speeches – of considerable eloquence and moral power – that propelled both into the national spotlight.
Actually, Foner’s piece criticizes Obama’s lack of openmindedness, intellectual curiosity, and his refusal to listen to critics in his own party.
Tom Van Dyke says
I don't find anything an historian says on current events more or less authoritative.
I'd prefer a reverse statute of limitations, that obliged historians to drop their credentials when commenting on current events.
Failing that, I must admit, John, that I don't mind Victor Davis Hanson often referred to as a “conservative” historian when piping up on current events; Foner should likewise be tabbed a “leftist” historian or something to make clear that he's baldly partisan.
Hanson writes for National Review; Foner is or was on the editorial board of The Nation.
I passed on Foner's Guardian op-ed to illustrate that he's manifestly a gentleman of the left, and fairly stated, the far left, even bagging on the president.
I think more clarification than simply “historian” Eric Foner is appropriate in polemics like this, and in the other one about the GOP.
While it may be true that Foner has a deeper knowledge of history, it's questionable whether he has a knowledge of current dynamics even at the level of a Krauthammer or an Ezra Klein.
Although the president doesn't appear to have put together a team like Lincoln's “Team of Rivals,” perhaps Foner's charge against the president's “lack of openmindedness, intellectual curiosity, and his refusal to listen to critics in his own party” is uninformed, if not ignorant or slanderous.
Similar charges were made against Ronald Reagan, but as the truth has trickled out, such charges have proved largely spurious. I for one am willing to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt. Although my own politics are in great opposition to the president's, Foner's charges approach the ad hom level, and are clearly founded on no more info than you or I have access to.
He's entitled to his opinion—and I might even share it—but his credentials lend no additional weight.