One of more absurd historical comparisons ever made is of Sarah Palin and Abraham Lincoln. Yet absurd as it is, some conservatives have actually made this claim.
It could be countered that anyone who believes Sarah Palin will believe anything and there is something to be said for this. But Palin also thinks she is somehow another Ronald Reagan, and of course, Reagan and Lincoln could not be more different. Such comparisons become easier, admittedly, when you don’t know anything about either one.
Just consider the rhetoric surrounding the Lincoln comparison. As the Bellingham Herald of Washington writes, while “Some may cringe at that idea” that “some may think it would be the greatest thing since Abraham Lincoln.”
Sarah Palin, savior of the Union?
Isn’t this the woman whose husband had a more than passing familiarity with the Alaska Independence Party (AIP) – a secessionist group?
Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections, tells ABC News that…Palin’s husband Todd was a member of the AIP from October 1995 through July 2002, except for a few months in 2000.
Palin herself denies membership but there are those who remember her attending the 1994 AIP convention. You have to wonder, since rather than scolding them for wanting to vote on whether to be part of the Union or not, she praised them in an address:
I sure don’t remember Lincoln praising the Confederate secessionists. No, I’m pretty sure he crushed them. I also don’t remember the secessionists supporting Lincoln for president. In fact, his election was their cue to secede. Yet the AIP supported Palin’s run for city council, as noted by Sarah Jones yesterday. She insists she was a Republican all along. That can only label her the Manchurian Candidate Republicans are always going on about. I guess they would know.
It’s an almost criminal comparison. Yet one conservative blogger wrote back in 2008 in almost rapturous prose that “if there is such a thing as reincarnation, something tells me that President Lincoln would be most pleased to see Sarah Palin being nominated for VP!”
It is difficult to conclude that Lincoln finding any words of praise for her and her husband as secessionists. Pleased? Not by a long shot. He fought to preserve the union, not tear it apart.
She seems to have only a passing familiarity with Lincoln the man, let alone his beliefs. She portrays him as a radical Evangelical fundamentalist like herself, but there is nothing in his writings to suggest this is true.
Famously (or perhaps infamously) she claimed the United States was fighting a holy war against terrorists (which to Sarah Palin appears to be more than just terrorists but Islam itself), and Charles Gibson of ABC news confronted her with the quote:
GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, “Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.” Are we fighting a holy war?
PALIN: You know, I don’t know if that was my exact quote.
GIBSON: Exact words.
Here’s where things get uncomfortably squirmy for Sarah Palin:
PALIN: But the reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s words when he said — first, he suggested never presume to know what God’s will is, and I would never presume to know God’s will or to speak God’s words. But what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that’s a repeat in my comments, was let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God’s side.
That’s what that comment was all about, Charlie.
Of course, that’s not true, and no amount of playing with Lincoln verbiage can make it true. Lincoln never talked about embarking on a holy war against the Confederacy. He did talk about preserving the Union. He had some harsh words for the south, and more than that, he had cannons, and he wasn’t afraid to use them.
Palin supporters have tried to argue that Palin did manage to capture the essence of what Lincoln said but you won’t find “Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God” anywhere in Lincoln’s writings, nor his speeches. You can dig as deep as you want but you won’t find any evidence that Lincoln thought holy wars were a good idea.
It’s not even clear he believed in God as Sarah Palin believes in God. It is true, as historian James M. McPherson writes that the King James Bible “offered him maxims for life as well as a model for the poetic prose that characterized the best of his later writings” but Thomas Jefferson was able to admire Jesus’ precepts without believing in Jesus the God. Admiration is not belief.
I have searched in vain the collected works of Abraham Lincoln for even a single instance of the word “Jesus” or “Ten Commandments” and found only one reference to the “Holy Spirit” – that in the Proclamation for Thanksgiving modern fundamentalists like to use to portray him as one of their kind of evangelicals. Palin can barely breathe without uttering all these words. As Lincoln well knew, “our fathers” brought forth this nation – not God.
Author Stephen Mansfield, in one of the most patently ridiculous comparisons ever made, wants us to believe Palin is like Lincoln because she stacked wood at a young age. He appeared on Hannity’s show in October to say so, and to draw other parallels between the two, including her “frontier upbringing.”
I wasn’t aware Wasilla was a frontier town; it’s the fourth largest city in Alaska, which might not be saying much by Lower 48-standards but it’s part of the Anchorage metropolitan area – which had an estimated population of 364,701 in 2008 – more people than live in my city.
Lincoln was born in a log cabin. On a real frontier. And stacking wood? Lots of kids stack wood but apparently in Alaska it’s some kind of holy undertaking. My little boy has stacked wood. He’s six years old. I haven’t compared him to Abraham Lincoln yet; I haven’t compared the circumstances of their lives. It would be ridiculous to do so, as Mansfield well knows. But he’s eulogizing, not writing a scholarly treatment. That’s why he was being interviewed on FOX News and not a legitimate news channel.
In 1832, Lincoln ran for State Legislature and won. He didn’t quit halfway through his term. In 1836, 1838, and 1840, he ran and won again. He didn’t quit any of those times either. That’s eight years of political office. He served through every day of it.
Sarah Palin quit her governor’s job half-way through.
Lincoln actually retired from politics in 1841 to work as a lawyer, rather than quitting halfway through a term he had been elected to serve by people who counted on him to represent their interests to the best of their ability, rather than to worry for his own pocketbook, which was never as full as Sarah Palin’s.
In 1846, Lincoln ran for Congress and won. He served both years of his term – again not quitting halfway through.
When he ran, he was accused by his opponent of not being a member of a church. Palin’s taunts of Obama are eerily similar. How would she have treated Lincoln had she been alive in 1846? Given the evidence of her rhetoric it’s impossible to believe she would not have roundly condemned him as an atheist.
Lincoln opposed the Mexican War of 1846. Unlike Sarah Palin, he wasn’t anxious to attack everybody, let alone declare it a holy war.
In 1854, Lincoln ran for the legislature again and won. Lincoln resigned that position so that he could stand for U.S. senator – to better oppose the evil of slavery and to preserve the Union. Not, like Grifterella, to line his pockets with speaking engagements, reality shows, and books.
Lincoln even debated Stephen Douglas, and unlike Sarah Palin, he knew what he was talking about. And as James McPherson writes, “In retrospect Lincoln was the real winner of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.” Only in Republican wet dreams did Palin win her debate with Joe Biden. Half the time, she couldn’t even be bothered to address the issues.
Lincoln ran for president, and won. Palin ran for governor. She won. And quit.
Sarah Palin says that unfair treatment of her was her reason for resigning as governor. Few Presidents (until Barack Obama) have put up with the abuse Abraham Lincoln endured as President. And he had to fight a war to preserve the Union at the same time. He had opposition not only from outside his party, but from within his party. But he did not quit. He soldiered on and he ran for re-election in 1864.
Palin announced she would not be running for re-election but then she couldn’t even be bothered to finish out her first term.
With regards to secession, with regards to the idea that a minority have the right to do as they please, Lincoln wrote in 1861, “The central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose.” Secession, he said, “is the essence of anarchy.”
Hard to find anywhere in the public record that Sarah Palin agrees with this. Her husband was, after all, a secessionist, and she did praise the Alaskan secessionist movement as a welcome ingredient to Alaska politics.
And Lincoln was eloquent, nearly a poet. Read his Gettysburg Address. Sarah Palin could not write that if she labored a hundred years at the task. She hasn’t even demonstrated a proficiency in the English language.
It is difficult, indeed, all but impossible, to find a single point of comparison between the two. And Sarah Palin will always be a quitter; Abraham Lincoln had no quit in him. It took a bullet in the head to get him out of office.
The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Kindle edition
Abraham Lincoln, James M. McPherson (Oxford, 2009).
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.