President Obama enacted historic health care legislation Tuesday in a ceremony that looked more like a birthday party than a bill signing. Democrats celebrated the culmination of a year-long debate on insurance reform that Mr. Obama made a focal point of his first year in office.
On Saturday Mr. Obama made an eleventh-hour plea to House Democrats ahead of their landmark vote. As he has often done through his young presidency and as a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama turned to Abraham Lincoln for motivation. "I am not bound to win, but I'm bound to be true. I'm not bound to succeed, but I'm bound to live up to what light I have," Mr. Obama told lawmakers, quoting the nation's sixteenth president. He acknowledged that the debate on health care had been a difficult one but urged undecided democrats to do what he said was right. "We've got middle class Americans, don't have Medicare, don't have Medicaid, watching the employer-based system fray along the edges or being caught in terrible situations. And the question is, are we going to be true to them?"
It's not the first time Mr. Obama has been inspired by Lincoln. In February 2007, he announced his candidacy at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln spent much of his time. "It is because men and women of every race, from every walk of life, continued to march for freedom long after Lincoln was laid to rest, that today we have the chance to face the challenges of this millennium together, as one people - as Americans," Mr. Obama said in his remarks to supporters.
Honest Abe found his way into many aspects of the historic Obama candidacy. In September 2007 then-candidate Obama referred to Lincoln's first State of the Union address as he announced a middle class tax relief plan in Washington. "Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.
Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration," he quoted.
At an April 2008 campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina Obama told the crowd that Lincoln - a republican - had become his favorite president. "It reminds you that these party labels... give people information about roughly what people stand for, but that's not who we are, we're American's first, then we're Democrats or Republicans, we're liberal or we're conservative, but we're Americans," he said. "I want to invite Republicans to be involved in this movement to change."
In June of the same year he lauded Lincoln's leadership style for having the ability to "turn moments of adversity into opportunity" and having "the courage to challenge conventional thinking and worn ideas."
When Mr. Obama returned to Illinois the night he was elected to office he again turned to the words of his favorite American president. "As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, We are not enemies, but friends." He continued, "though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too."
Not long after that famed victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park, Mr. Obama took a page out of the history books and traveled to Washington for his inauguration Lincoln-style.
He replicated Lincoln's 12-day journey from Springfield, Illinois to the nation's capital in1861. At a stop in Philadelphia, he spoke of Lincoln's own appeal to a higher purpose. "What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives from ideology and small thinking," he told the crowd. "Independent from prejudice and bigotry, independent from selfishness. An appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels."
Since taking office the President has mentioned Lincoln often, even praising his efforts to promote transportation initiatives like high-speed rail. "President Lincoln was committed to a nation connected east to west even at the same time he was trying to hold North and South together, he was in the middle of a civil war," Mr. Obama said in April, referring to Lincoln's historical achievement of creating the first transcontinental railroad.
The President has said one of his favorite places to go when things get tough is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, calling the historic landmark a reminder of what the nation has been able to accomplish and overcome. These days the President has little time to leave the White House for local field trips, but as he told lawmakers Saturday, as commander-in-chief, he has access to a host of books on Lincoln that he can turn to for guidance.