Particularly notable is Goodwin's repeated observation that Lincoln was quick to take the blame whenever things went wrong, and to pass along the credit when things went well. When an attempt to resupply beseiged Fort Sumter went awry, and Captain Gustavus Fox, in command of the mission, was inconsolable, Lincoln:
...assumed the blame, assuring him that “by an accident, for which you were in no wise responsible, and possibly I, to some extent was, you were deprived of a war vessel with her men, which you deemed of great importance to the enterprize. I most cheerfully and truly declare that the failure of the undertaking has not lowered you a particle, while the qualities you developed in the effort, have greatly heightened you, in my estimation.”
Lots of anecdotes like this one. You search in vain for anything Lincoln said that put the onus for his troubles on his predecessor, the inept James Buchanan, or on his opponents both in congress and out, or even his critics in his own cabinet. Did anyone ever inherit a mountain of troubles as high as that which Lincoln confronted? If anyone was ever justified in claiming repeatedly, “It's not my fault!” it was Lincoln.
By contrast, General George McClellan, in command of all the union armies in 1861, never took the blame for anything:
At the first whiff of censure, McClellan shifted blame onto any other shoulder but his own – onto Scott's failure to muster necessary resources, onto the incompetence of the cabinet, “some of the greatest geese... I have ever seen – enough to tax the patience of Job.” He considered Seward “a meddling, officious, incompetent little puppy,” Welles “weaker than the most garrulous old woman, and Bates “an old fool.”
Lincoln eventually fired McClellan, who then ran for president against him in 1864. Lincoln won easily; his visage is today on Mount Rushmore; McClellan's is not.
President Obama got a laugh out of a Maryland audience on Thursday when he mocked the Republican Party in a speech, comparing their skepticism of alternative energy to the “Flat Earth Society” in Christopher Columbus’ day and President Rutherford B. Hayes’ apparent dismissal of the telephone. But while Obama thinks the GOP is in need of a science lesson, he may need to bone up on history himself.
In mocking the GOP, Obama cited an anecdote about Hayes in which, upon using the telephone for the first time, he said, “It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?”
“That’s why he’s not on Mount Rushmore,” Obama said. “He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something.”
This is a first, as far as I know – a President of the United States of America mocking a deceased predecessor, not for the man's policies, but because he's allegedly a dumbass (in fact, Hayes was so impressed by the telephone that he ordered one installed in the White House). How very presidential, how magnanimous, how generous of spirit, how statesmanlike our president is!
Do you hear what Obama is saying? “Hayes isn't on Mount Rushmore because he wasn't smart like me!” No, you arrogant, condescending buffoon, Hayes isn't on Mount Rushmore because he wasn't as great as Washington and Lincoln. That's rarefied, august company, and it excludes some pretty accomplished men. Hey, Barack – John Adams and James Madison and Andrew Jackson called, and they want you to know you stink. And, by the way, President Buffoon, Hayes was wounded five times while serving our country during the Civil War, the war that freed your wife's ancestors from slavery, you ungrateful wretch.
I wonder if Obama thinks that by imitating George McClellan long enough and hard enough, blaming George Bush, Fox News, the Arab Spring and Japan's tsunami, China and India, Europe and Japan, congress, and, yes, even the Founding Fathers for all his troubles, he can get his face on Mount Rushmore, too.