Melissa Harris-Perry | November 17, 2012
>> divided we are bound to fail. but the life of a tall gangely self made springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. he tells us that there is power in words. he tells us that there's power in conviction, that beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people.
>> that was then. senator obama at the very initiation, the launch of his first presidential campaign in 2007 , channeling abraham lincoln in springfield, illinois. a theme that he has continued in the nearly six years since. jelani, what do we learn about lincoln when we take the more complex view.
>> okay, so here's the thing with lincoln and one of the reasons we find him so intriguing. there are people who depict him as this kind of unblem shished avatar of racial unequality which he most certainly was not. many of them who are his critics dismiss him as someone who did nothing at all. that's completely inaccurate. until we can come to understand him as nuance, as a person wrong a great deal of the time but ultimately wound up doing the right thing, we won't be able to understand abraham lincoln . i think just in terms of president obama , we've seen that same kind of dynamic with his critics, i think that's one of the reasons he finds lincoln to be such a figure that he relates to, that many of the criticisms directed at barack obama is he is either going to be the person who personally lifts black america with one hand and delivers us into the promised land or someone who simply, what was it, republican in black face i think cornell west called him. neither of those ideas is accurate. until we're able to deal with him on a level of knew as, we won't be able to understand what we can expect from his presiden presidency.
>> this president, president obama knows he has a place in history. some presidents we kinds of forget they were ever president. this one knew from the beginning, i'm going to be notice history books. and it does feel like something about the history books and particularly the way we think about our great men of history leads us to cover over the complexity, whether we're talking about king or about lincoln or in this case about president obama . it does feel to me like his critics like cornell west who are very complex thinkers in a ton of ways somehow seem to miss the complexity of that moment.
>> even the complexity of the support. one of the things i found to be most disrespectful in the cornell west critique of president obama is cornell and that vis smiley and others, this idea that people have only been able to support barack obama out of a sense of emotional fulfillment, not that people could make a rational calculation to say i see this person flaws but i think there's more on the side of what i think is beneficial than not. that's where we wind up in the same problems with lincoln or obama or any figure we're going to deny complexity.
>> i was thinking about this, i was remembering that mcclelland had run against lincoln . mclelland is lincoln 's own general and promised the soldiers of the union, i'm going to end the war. so in a very transactional way to vote for mcclellan is to vote for yourself going home from the bloudiest war in american history , and yet the troops overwhelmingly supported lincoln and did so because they had come to regard mr. lincoln with sentiments of ven ration and love. to them he was really father abraham . by supporting him, the soldiers understood they were voting to prolong the war but they voted because this was a president whose cause, their own cause was embodied. when i read that about the soldiers i thought that's like black voters with president obama .
>> and white voters including me, as well. i think what happened in this election is we saw the difference of someone who we believe and someone we don't believe. mitt romney we just did not believe. he simply was lying to us. when president obama spoke and when he speaks we know his intentions are good. we know his vision is right for this country. when he gave the victory speech and said these are these united states of america , we believed that. we genuinely believed that.
>> believing that is critical to the preservation of the union.
>> there's no question about it, but it also says who the person is. and see, i think that some of the similarities in lincoln 's life as a person growing up and the similarities in president obama 's life, he didn't have a silver spoon . he had a grew up with a single mom and even in his environment being that he grew up a lot with white people and things that have nature.
>> lincoln lost his mother at a young age. very close to his stepmother who in certain ways had similarities.
>> losing rays. lincoln ran for congress and lost. same as barack obama . but yet, persevered and continued with the focus, to move on forward and understanding still peoplecrit stizing you but you're ready to take that criticism because you want to take the next step. sometimes if you're sincere, you don't know right away what the right thing is to do. you've got to think about it and ponder and walk around. as president obama did surely even when he went after osama bin laden . he didn't know. he said i've got to sleep on it. what's the right thing to do here. sometimes you've got to make the right decision and sometimes you may make the wrong decision.
>> there's a preference for come tem plative president. sort of weigh in on this for me.
>> i think that certainly the falling to your knees at a time of conflict that commonality that both of them had in looking to a higher power and to give guidance to step up and show the courage that america needs in the position of leadership, really understanding governing versus the campaign.
>> that's where it all comes down.
>> at the dnc hencoln, i sometimes fall to my knee. first it's time for a preview of weekends with alex witt .