Obama: I’ve Got It Worse Than Lincoln

Politicians often make exaggerations when they’re giving political speeches, and the President certainly committed a doozy yesterday during a speech on his Mid-West bus tour when he compared his Presidency to that of the 16th person to occupy the Oval Office:

President Barack Obama said yesterday in Decorah, Iowa, that he absorbs more political criticism than Abraham Lincoln, the assassinated 16th U.S. president, attracted from his Civil War critics.

The comment came during a question-and-answer session where one invited audience member asked Obama how he deals with his congressional critics in the GOP. “The Congress doesn’t seem to be a good partner. You said so yourself, they’re more interested in seeing you lose than [seeing] the country win,” the questioner lamented.

“Democracy is always a messy business in a big country like this,” Obama responded. “When you listen to what the federalists said about the anti-federalists … those guys were tough. Lincoln, they used to talk about him almost as bad as they talk about me.”

As one historian noted, the comparison is really rather ridiculous:

The comparison “is hysterical … that is really laughable in many respects,” said Alvin Felzenberg, the author of a book on American presidents. “You couldn’t print things today they said about Lincoln.” Felzenberg teaches at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and was the chief spokesman for the 9/11 Commission.

Criticism of Lincoln in his day “was even more vitriolic than what you see about Obama,” said Eric Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian at Columbia University. “Obama is a guy who has a thin skin and does not take criticism well.” Foner’s Pulitzer-winning volume was titled “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.”


Lincoln faced a civil war in which “half the country would rather leave than accept that he was a constitutional president,” Felzenberg told TheDC. But “no one challenged Obama’s election, no one tried to shut down the inauguration … to put himself at [Lincoln’s] level seems very vain and self-absorbed.”

Even though he was repeatedly snubbed and insulted by both Democrats and Republicans, “Lincoln had this amazing capacity for open-mindedness,” Foner explained. “He wanted criticism. He invited critics into the White House … I don’t think Obama does.”

Not to mention the fact that Lincoln faced a four year long Civil War that remains the bloodiest war in American history. Yea, Obama has things rough and his critics have been difficult and even stupid at times. However, arguing that he’s had it worse than the man who spent his entire Presdiency despearately trying to reunite and divided country while dealing with people in his own government working against him is simply absurd.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael says:

    That is because Obama is absurd, something you here don’t discuss much here because you are too busy attacking Republicans.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    @Michael: Doug just did a post in which he wrote that Obama’s statement was ridiculous. Do you not read?

  3. JKB says:

    I get it, Obama is taking on the new theme song for his bus tour

    Gloom, Despair and Agony

  4. PD Shaw says:

    He misspoke; it happens. But I’ll use this event to plug my own Lincoln analogy:

    Obama made a lot of having read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals”* which purports to express her interest in how Lincoln gathered his political rivals into his cabinet and managed them. Obama’s appointments were likened to Lincoln’s.

    I believe this was a mistake. The cabinet system doesn’t work the same way today as it did then, and didn’t work terribly well for Lincoln (and ultimately was disregarded). It gives a very executive branch centered view on the office.

    The better book would have been Richard Carwadine’s “Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power,” which deals with how Lincoln used the instruments of power, used the gifts of oratory and speech to draw power from the people, and used his political vision (purpose) to become one of the most successful Presidents in history.

    * I haven’t read it.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    Lincoln vs. Obama? No contest.

    At night Lincoln crawled into bed with Mary Todd Lincoln, a lumpish crazy woman. Obama sleeps with Michelle.

    Know when you’ve got it good, Barack.

  6. WR says:

    It’s pretty obvious from the sentence construction that Obama was joking. But then it was also clear that Paul Krugman wasn’t advocating an alien invasion, and that didn’t stop right wingers from insisting that he was.

    Obtuseness, the Republican’s best friend.

  7. @michael reynolds:

    Not to mention the fact that Mary Todd was related to at least three officers in the Confederate Army. And she suffered from what we’d probably now diagnose as manic-depressive disorder.

  8. catfish says:

    Obama does not have to deal with Edwin Stanton, as Lincoln did.

  9. Drew says:

    Boo-hoo. Sniff. Mommy make the mean people go away…..

  10. rodney dill says:

    Not so crazy, only half the country wanted to get away from Lincoln.