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Two-faced Lincoln

Posted November. 30, 2012 08:00,   


"Team of Rivals: The Political Genius o Abraham Lincoln" was the talk of the town in the U.S. four years ago. The book is about his leadership style stressing engagement. He appointed Henry Seward, his rival in the Republican presidential primary, as the first secretary of state and Edwin Stanton, a Democrat who called Lincoln a "long-armed ape," as the second. Incumbent President Barack Obama, who had read the book in the 2008 presidential race, named former primary opponent Hillary Clinton as his first secretary of state.

Steven Spielberg’s film “Lincoln” was released immediately after the re-election of President Obama. In the movie, Lincoln is depicted as a completely different man from the book, including as a politician who uses cheating and tricks instead of engagement to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to ban slavery. No great vision can be realized merely through sincerity and good will. In Korea, former IT guru Ahn Cheol-soo abruptly dropped out of the presidential race this month, saying, “I didn’t sell my soul even as a presidential candidate.” Lincoln, however, scrapped his image of "Honest Abe" and gave his life for the American people.

President Obama is pressuring the Republican Party by holding a series of meetings with CEOs who supported the Republicans in the last presidential election to resolve the fiscal cliff. He invited his Republican election opponent Mitt Romney to the White House Thursday and urged a bipartisan agreement, saying he hoped both parties come to a framework agreement within a few weeks. Perhaps Obama again learned from the Lincoln depicted in the movie.

Lincoln was recently known to suffer from depression severe enough that he considered suicide. Nassir Ghaemi, a professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine, says depression was a driving force behind his leadership and led him to greatness. Through his mental condition, he carefully considered the reality that people saw lightly and sympathized with his rivals, blacks and enemies. In other words, depression helped him liberate the slaves and unite America. This, however, merely highlights just an unusual part of national leadership in emergency cases such as the Civil War. A leader must be normal both physically and mentally. Korea`s next president must have insight into reality and sympathize with the people without suffering from depression.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)