Obama, Lincoln and the Art of Compromise

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his op-ed column in the New York Times, warns President Obama that democracy turns on intelligent compromise but also on "ill-tempered gripers and groaners."

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President Obama speaks at a news conference. (Getty Images)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his op-ed column in the New York Times, tackles the fine art of compromise, arguing that it requires magnanimity as well as a hard line.   

The administration of President Obama has never held much regard for its left flank. Admonished by the vice president to "stop whining," inveighed against by the president himself for "griping and groaning," the liberal critics have been generally viewed by the White House as petulant children. "The Professional Left," former press secretary Robert Gibbs dubbed them, a gang of nettlesome romantics who "ought to be drug-tested," and would not be happy until "we have Canadian health care and we've eliminated the Pentagon."

Keeping up the theme, the administration recently released a video of Mr. Obama waxing scornfully at the expense of his softheaded allies. The audience was an ideological cross-section of college students, no doubt picked to emphasize Mr. Obama’s ever open mind. The president invoked Abraham Lincoln, noting that the Emancipation Proclamation was a compromise that freed only the slaves in rebel territory. "Can you imagine how The Huffington Post would have reported on that? It would have been blistering. Think about it, 'Lincoln sells out slaves.' "

Rendering the hallowed Proclamation as a seminal act of hippy-punching is understandably attractive to the Very Serious People of Washington. But, in Mr. Obama’s case, it also evinces a narrow politicocentric view of democracy that holds that the first duty of a loyal opposition is to stay on message and fall in line.

In fact, many of Lincoln's most vociferous critics welcomed the Proclamation.

Read Ta-Nehisi Coates' complete column on the op-ed page of the New York Times.

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