I happily read Bill Kristol's remarks about President-elect Obama today in The New York Times.
Here are some of my favorite lines about why an Obama presidency won't be all bad.
Obama, it’s been announced, will be the first president to take the oath of office using the Lincoln Bible, held by President Lincoln at his first inauguration, since ... Lincoln.
Some commentators have poked fun at Obama’s presumption. And it might be a good idea if, when he takes the oath, Obama makes sure that the Good Book is open to Proverbs 16:18, and its reminder that “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
But my (generous) interpretation of Obama’s choice of the Lincoln Bible is this: It’s an homage to Lincoln, not a claim to be like him. Obama intends to look back to Lincoln for guidance and to look up to him as a model. Lincoln, our greatest president and statesman, had a deep understanding of American exceptionalism. He thought long and hard about the relationship of American founding principles to political practice, and in his actions exemplified the prudent and skillful pursuit of a principled end. He was also a great war president. Obama could do a lot worse than study Lincoln and learn from him.
What’s more, in a radio address this past week, Obama cited George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, as a lesson for us today. Obama’s academic supporters must be rolling their eyes, or assuming he’s just playing to the simple-minded patriots in the peanut gallery. But what if Obama’s own understanding of the founders is more in line with the admiring spirit of many recent popular biographies than the belittling efforts of post-1960s tenured radicals?
. . .
Those of us who dislike finger-wagging nanny-state-nagging liberalism relish the prospect of President Barack Obama sneaking a cigarette on the second floor of the White House while rereading Harry V. Jaffa’s great work on Lincoln, “Crisis of the House Divided,” then taking a break to gaze at the White House’s copy of Emanuel Leutze’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” then going back to the family quarters to tell his kids to get back to memorizing some patriotic poetry, all of this interrupted occasionally by calls from Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno — his Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman — to discuss progress in the wars we’re fighting, or from Rick Warren to discuss their joint efforts to fight AIDS in Africa and to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S.
Though Kristol doesn't say as much outloud, I suspect his views of Lincoln are more in line with the Claremont Institute's -- and Claremont McKenna's, lest we forget -- Harry V. Jaffa than with the current vogue of seeing Lincoln as depressed, homosexual, or some sufferer whose greatness wasn't truly great. Kristol's right to call our attention to Obama's fascination with Lincoln. Indeed, it's something that's already been alluded to by none other than the Claremont Institute's -- and Claremont McKenna's -- Charles Kesler in the Claremont Review of Books.
Coming up as we are on the fiftieth anniversary of Jaffa's book, "Crisis of the House Divided," I must say that I am glad to see yet another CMC professor's book have lasting influence. To see the mention of a great CMC professor in the New York Times, the ever-fleeting paper of record next to the Wall Street Journal, is the biggest of compliments. Suffice it to say, it could only have occurred in the op-ed column of Mr. Kristol, who has a very high regard for our campus.
I know this because, among other things, I sat at the same table as Bill Kristol for the Strauss Conference dinner early this December where I heard him compliment Claremont McKenna, Jaffa, and our students.
The conference was on Machiavelli and put on by the Salvatori Center, one of the slew of places where I am gainfully employed. On the whole, I found the conference very interesting, if at times a bit over my head. Still, I learned a lot in the discussions about what Straussians think and don't think about the essential philosophical questions of our day. Naturally, this philosophizing followed to dinner where I was duly educated on the state of the world. Among those seated at the table were Professor Mark Blitz, Peter Thiel of Clairium Capital, Bill Kristol, and yours truly. To say I was in the company of greats is to make the biggest of an understatement.
I wouldn't want to betray the confidences of the people at the table by blogging on what the dinner topics were or weren't, but I will say that Kristol seemed very optimistic about the state of the country after an Obama victory. He proceeded to give me a rundown for why I shouldn't be so in the dumps, which naturally, made me a bit cheerier. For that, I am very grateful indeed!
For those who are interested, Kristol has been a guest at Claremont McKenna's Athenaeum and he serves as editor of The Weekly Standard, where CMC and CI alum, Kevin Vance CMC '08 is currently employed.