Monday, April 19, 2010

President Barack Obama, Abe Lincoln And Cooper Union

President Barack Obama has a curious "special relationship" with New York's Cooper Union, a venerable liberal arts institution that gets little fanfare even in the media capital of the world. He delivered the first major economic speech of the 2008 campaign at Cooper Union on March 27, 2008.

What is it about this small, free New York college founded in 1859 and the first African-American President of the United States?

(Lincoln at Cooper Union via kikoshouse)

"The 151-year-old college," notes 1010WINS, "has also seen memorable speeches by candidates Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, as well as sitting Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton." All Presidents -- no matter how stupid, as in the case of the astonishingly stupid Bush, 41 -- are creatures of history, obsessed with their standing among their peers and their predecessors.

Obama, clearly, has a Lincolnian vibe. There are positively eerie coincidences between the two Illinois Presidents. As Joe Klein wrote, "Barack Obama has never been shy about comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln. He did so when he announced his candidacy at the Illinois state capitol, where both he and Lincoln served in the legislature."

At Obama's first speech at Cooper Union's Great Hall, within the first minute, Lincoln was mentioned. "I want everybody to know right at the outset here that this may not be living for generations to come, the way Lincoln's speech did," said the then-Senator en route to the Presidency. Abraham Lincoln, en route to the Presidency roughly 148 years earlier, delivered his right makes might speech. The speech, wrote Lincoln's contemporary and biographer, Isaac Arnold, "probably did more to secure his nomination, than any other act of his life."

The Great Recession is to the Obama's Presidency what The Civil War was to Lincoln's. There is another symmetry as well. "The speech Thursday at Cooper Union in Manhattan," The CBC reminds us, "will mark a year since Obama first outlined his ideas for reform." Probably not a coincidence.

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