Even though we identified Abraham Lincoln as Jack Bauer's favorite U.S. president, we are beginning to think that the country has forgotten about the other 42 presidents altogether. Yeah, some of them should be forgotten (I'm looking at you, Zach Taylor) but the cliché of our political times is to draw out some timely quote from Abraham Lincoln. It's time to move out from under Lincoln's shadow.
Even during Obama's victory speech last week, the President-elect dipped into "Honest Abe's Greatest Hits" when he said "We are not enemies, but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection." It's a good quote, and if it was the only time Obama quoted Lincoln, I wouldn't complain.
But it's not just Obama. So many politicos (politicians, commentators, anything in-between) sit around tables, under unflattering lighting, and toss around Lincoln like a church collection basket. Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Meecham, Michael Beschloss, Walter Isaacson, your uncle Steve, the guy at the coffee shop, etc. All of these "Barnes & Noble intellectuals" throw Lincoln out there like some badge of legitimacy. It's almost to imply "Well, if Lincoln said it, it must be true!"
This kind of Lincoln-worship is silly. And what's worse, it has become so constant that it actually dilutes what the man said. Just now, I can hear a manager at IHOP saying to his unruly wait staff "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Come on, people-- back away from the Lincoln! It's time to make a little more effort in the quotation department. And Mr. Obama, try throwing us a curveball like quoting James Polk in your Inaugural, where he once said "Well may the boldest fear and the wisest tremble when incurring responsibilities on which may depend our country's peace and prosperity, and in some degree the hopes and happiness of the whole human family."
But I fear the unoriginal, repetitive Lincoln-quoting will continue. This rhetorical piggy-backing robs us of honesty. I don't think William Howard Taft was quoting Lincoln when he said "Politics, when I am in it, it makes me sick." But based on how politicians behave, I'm sure both men agreed with that sentiment.