VMI Will March in Inaugural Parade

One of my readers has informed me that the Virginia Military Institute’s entire Corps of cadets will march in Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.  Why is this significant?  The Corps, along with Thomas J. Jackson were present at the execution of John Brown in 1859.  Most notably, the Corps took part in the Battle of New Market in 1864, in a war whose purpose was the perpetuation of slavery and white supremacy.  Even as other military schools transitioned to admitting African Americans into their programs, VMI remained steadfast in refusing to do so until 1968.  Perhaps it’s just another sign of how far we’ve come as a nation.

The Use and Abuse of Popular History – Goodwin Style

Thanks to James Oakes, Matthew Pinsker, and Brian Dirck for attempting to apply the breaks to the overused and abused Goodwinian meme, “Team of Rivals.”

Oakes: For one thing, there was nothing new in what Lincoln did. By tradition, presidents-elect reserved a cabinet position, often secretary of state, for the leading rival in their party. John Quincy Adams inaugurated the practice by appointing one of his presidential rivals, Henry Clay, to that post….Nor is it quite correct to say that Lincoln installed his “enemies” in the cabinet. Rivals for his own party’s nomination are not the same thing as political “enemies.” It would have been inconceivable, for example, for Lincoln to offer a cabinet appointment to his Democratic opponent, Stephen Douglas.

Pinsker: Over the years, it has become easy to forget that hard edge and the once bad times that nearly destroyed a president. Lincoln’s Cabinet was no team. His rivals proved to be uneven as subordinates. Some were capable despite their personal disloyalty, yet others were simply disastrous.

Dirck: Obama simply faces an entirely different situation in making his cabinet appointments–or really, in filling any government post. The reason Lincoln could get away with appointing his rivals–indeed, the reason he had little choice in the matter–lay in his party’s newness. The Republican Party did not as yet host big, powerful, countervailing ideological and political organizations, analagous to the Clinton wing of the modern Democratic Party. It was, in 1860 at least, largely a collection of individuals (like Seward) who certainly had their followers and their factions, but no real political base, rooted in the patronage…

We are being barraged by various commentators and so-called authorities who are either reflecting on or pushing Barack Obama to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln in choosing a cabinet. Well, not quite. They are actually utilizing an interpretive theme that dominates Doris Kearns Goodwin’s best-selling book, Team of Rivals, which argues that Lincoln intentionally chose cabinet members who would both reflect very different political positions and challenge his policies. Almost no one is questioning whether this accurately reflects Lincoln’s approach, whether it was unusual, or whether it makes any sense at all in comparing our own political climate and party organization with the 1860s. No doubt, the pervasiveness of this line of thought is in part the result of Obama’s own continual references to the sixteenth president as well as his best-known speeches.

I read Goodwin’s book when it was first published. Admittedly, I found it difficult to read without reflecting on the Bush Administration’s approach to internal cabinet dissent. Indeed, at times I had the impression that Goodwin was writing with Bush clearly in mind and yet I hesitate from impugning her work as a product of unrestrained presentism. It’s no surprise that a book about Lincoln written throughout the two terms of one of our most controversial presidents, and offering a model for a very different approach to presidential leadership, would be embraced. All history is written through the lens of contemporary politics and culture, but that does not necessarily imply that historical studies are relegated to the realm of relativism. Goodwin’s book deserves to be treated as a study of Lincoln and the politics of the 1860s. The pervasiveness of recent commentary surrounding this theme of cabinet rivals, however, is more about what we want to see in the past and much of the country’s frustrations and anger over the past few years.

Virginia is for Obama (Proud to be a Virginian – 11:07pm)

Abraham_obama  Yeswecan

(artist – Ron English)

 
The exit polls are very revealing.  I was surprised by the split when it came to income brackets.  People making less than $50,000 went with Obama, but even in the higher brackets McCain failed to capitalize on the socialist rhetoric.  It's comforting to know that Americans were not so easily duped by this language.  I wonder what this means for "Joe the Plumber" recording career?  Ten-percent of the electorate who took part in yesterday's election voted for the first time.  I spoke with an employee in our cafeteria who must be in her 60s and who had never voted before.  She went to the polls with her entire family and I can't wait to talk to her about the experience.  Some will attribute this to Obama's "star" quality, but I attribute it to the ability to inspire and rally.  And isn't this what we want in a democracy?
 
It's already a cliche to say that this election is historic.  It was a very emotional experience watching the tears stream down the face of Jesse Jackson as well as the excitement of the young students at Spelman College.  We just finished discussing King's assassination in class yesterday and at one point I showed the class the famous photograph of the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, which included Jackson.  Congressman Lewis's commentary was also very moving.  We've been discussing Lewis's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as well and the courage he displayed on more than one battlefield.  I am so happy for him this morning and the thousands of Americans who risked everything to combat injustice and racism.  These are the people – both black and white – who paved the way for this election. 
 
That said, if we are to appreciate Obama's claim that he represents the most "unlikely candidate" than we must look beyond race.  It is the appreciation of his overall profile, including his age, personal story, and profile that give meaning to his words.  There are two facts of his life that give me reason to be optimistic.  First, this is a man who wrote openly about drug use in his memoir as well as other mistakes of youth.  Second, his election to the position of editor of the Harvard Law Review was made possible by the support of members fo the Federalist Society.  The first example points to a certain level of opennness and honesty, while the second suggests that he will, in fact, try to be a president for all Americans.   
 
I know this sounds just a little sappy, but you know what, I don't care.  For the moment I am happy and proud of my country.