The Obama-Lincoln trail

by Norm Winick

It is altogether fitting and proper that the first African-American President come from Illinois. The President who paved the way for African-Americans to become full citizens also came from Illinois. It was Abraham Lincoln, who, in Galesburg, declared that slavery is a moral outrage and that the equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence includes everyone. It was Barack Obama who, in Galesburg on the steps of the same building where Lincoln made that affirmation, reminded us that we can strive for the top and, in America, attain it. "And yet, brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, people kept dreaming, and building, and working, and marching, and petitioning their government, until they made America a land where the question of our place in history is not answered for us. It's answered by us."

And Barack Obama truly lived that message he gave to the graduates of Knox College in June of 2005 as he committed to securing his place in history. And he has. But the parallels between Illinois' most famous son and Barack Obama don't end there.

They both came from single-parent families of modest backgrounds. They took their education wherever they could and cherished it. They both became lawyers. They both were elected to the Illinois legislature and to one term in Congress. Lincoln was a Representative, Obama a Senator in both. They both were unknowns until they received national recognition for their oratory after giving a major speech back East — Lincoln at Cooper Union and Obama in Boston at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Their journeys to the nomination and the Presidency were improbable ones at best. Both were distant long shots making their first appearance on the national stage when they entered the race in Springfield. Both were known for their words but untested as politicians outside Illinois. Lincoln faced formidable and better known opponents, particularly the presumptive favorite, William H. Seward. His tactics at the convention in Chicago orchestrated by David Davis of Bloomington, were a textbook example of hardball politics and Lincoln secured the nomination.

Obama faced the "inevitable" nominee in Hillary Clinton but his tactics throughout the primaries as orchestrated by David Axelrod of Chicago secured him the nomination. Both ran as uniters, Lincoln to preserve the union and Obama to get everyone to work together for the greater good. When the nation voted, both carried essentially the same states — though under a different party's banner.

Obama carried every state Lincoln did but added Florida, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland (and maybe North Carolina). The maps are eerily similar.

Barack Obama was only the fourth African- American to ever serve in the United States Senate. The first, Hiram Revels, attended Knox College. The third, Carol Moseley- Braun, was also from Illinois.

Starting now, he is carving his own path, and it's one that has the potential to make this country a far better place.