By Rich Lowry
The Hendricks County Flyer
Fri Jun 14, 2013, 02:44 PM EDT
When Barack Obama announced his presidential campaign back in February 2007, he did it in front of the old Springfield, Ill., Statehouse in a speech full of references to Abraham Lincoln.
He has clothed himself in the mantle of our 16th president in ways large and small throughout his presidency. This is nothing new. Progressives have been after Lincoln since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. By capturing the legacy of Lincoln, they know they can use one of the most beloved figures in American history to bless an endlessly expansive government and deprecate their opponents.
“The official leaders of the Republican Party today,” as Roosevelt put it in 1913, “are the spiritual heirs of the men who warred against Lincoln.” If Obama hasn't stated it so starkly, his point is essentially the same. This is shrewd politics but poor history. It distorts Lincoln or entirely misses his point in a brazen act of historical body-snatching.
As I recount in my new book, Lincoln Unbound, he was a proponent of markets, individual achievement, and personal responsibility. He embraced economic dynamism and development. He rejected populist demagoguery directed at corporations and banks. He warned against class warfare and made working for your own living — and not off the work of others — one of his bedrock principles. He considered property rights sacrosanct and called patent law one of the greatest inventions of all time. He revered the Founders.
All of these elements of his politics were at play in his struggle to end the rural backwardness in which he had grown up and — more importantly — to end slavery, which as “unrequited toil” offended his sense of basic justice and natural rights.
Of course, Lincoln had a positive view of government, believing that policies supporting transportation, industry and a sound currency would create a vibrant, open economy. But none of this involved the massive, redistributive transfer payments of the modern welfare state, not to mention the regulation or the bureaucracy.
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