Lincoln, Obama and the Madness of Sean Hannity

02/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sean Hannity christened his new Colmes-less show with a predictably ridiculous segment in which he claimed that President-elect Obama is attempting to hijack Abraham Lincoln's legacy from -- seriously -- the modern Republican Party.

HANNITY: And in Your America tonight, Barack Obama is doing everything he can to convince Americans that he is the rightful inheritor of Abraham Lincoln's legacy. [...] First, at the top, I just remember that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

The red flag here? He "just remembers" the part about Lincoln's party affiliation. This indicates that everything else about Lincoln is therefore processed through the doofwerks of Hannity's America, inside which reality and universally accepted facts are mercilessly sculpted, oversimplified and kneejerked into bloody submission, and thus ejecting through its ass-end an easy-to-digest-but-insanely-wrong deductive equation: Lincoln = Republican = Just Like Me: Sean Hannity = Awesome!

Lincoln was indeed the first Republican president. Good job, Hannity! Erudite! More about the history of party affiliations presently, but to somehow suggest that President-elect Obama is trying to steal Lincoln all for himself, or for Hannity to imply that Bush Republicanism is the same as Lincoln Republicanism is about as realistic as suggesting that Lincoln survived the assassination as is currently alive and lurching around -- top hat and all -- through the forests of the upper Midwest like a lanky, undead sasquatch. Then again, Hannity once dedicated an entire segment of his show to the existence of demons walking among us. I'm not suggesting Hannity believes that Lincoln is still alive, but it wouldn't be shocker given his belief in goblins and the like.

Regardless, he's clearly unable to fathom why this particular moment in American history calls to mind the spirit and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. This is nothing short of miraculous given the ubiquity of all things Kearns-Goodwin-y. Incidentally, the "Mortal Kombat vs. The Team of Rivals" video game tie-in is pretty sweet. The Seward "Pantaloons of Chaos" move (X, X, Up, Down, B, B, Y) is totally indefensible -- especially against that punk Liu Kang.

But even the most superficial grasp of Lincoln history would have to include something about the abolition of slavery, no? Even by Hannity's, shall we say, slow understanding of history, this is a commonly understood presidential factoid. And from there, it's not a mental stretch to figure out that Barack Obama will be the first African American president. Perhaps some ancillary information about how Mrs. Obama, along with the Obama children, are direct descendants of slaves might factor in there somehow. Tie it all together and it's easy to figure out why people are making a big deal about the Lincoln-Obama relationship. The Lincoln taint, if you will. Throw in the Lincoln and Obama Illinois connection, along with Lincoln and Obama both confronting a much divided nation while facing Herculean domestic challenges both in terms of politics and policy, and we discover that, like always, Hannity is an idiot.

During the same segment, Hannity welcomed far-right historian Larry Schweikart who announced:

SCHWEIKART: Lincoln, though, had a war to deal with. Obama doesn't. Lincoln is known as the great emancipator. If Obama spends money the way he's planning to, he'll be known as the great incarcerator because we're all going to end up in debtor's prison.

Hoo-hoo! Great incarcerator. Funny stuff.

Here's another joke. Schweikart is a professor of history at the University of Dayton and Wikipedia notes that he's written more than a dozen books including 48 Liberal Lies About American History. Ironic, given that out of the above four sentences, two of them contain lies.

President-elect Obama has inherited not one but two wars: Iraq and Afghanistan (though Iraq is arguably an occupation and not a war). Also, there's no such thing as debtor's prison anymore, but if there were, it's highly doubtful that every American citizen would be incarcerated inside one as punishment for the national debt. Does old-timey Schweikart also teach his students that if they imbibe too much applejack at a speak-easy, they'll all have to wander around the village square wearing nothing but a barrel? By the way, here's some actual history for Mr. Schweikart: the national debt increased by a record 72 percent during the Bush presidency -- growing by more than $4 trillion dollars since 2001.

Hannity, then, added to Schweikart's gibberish by inexplicably suggesting that Abraham Lincoln would've kept Guantanamo Bay open unlike President-elect Obama.

HANNITY: Where would Abraham Lincoln be as it relates to Gitmo? Didn't he put aside civil rights and shut down press outlets -- and issues of habeas corpus as it relates to those issues? I think he'd be on a very different side of the Gitmo issue don't you think?

No, Lincoln didn't put aside civil rights. See the aforementioned "freed the slaves" factoid above. I'm sure Hannity meant to say "civil liberties," so we'll let that one slide. Lincoln did, however, temporarily suspend habeas corpus, which the Constitution allows during times of rebellion: "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." Granted, this power is reserved for Congress and not for the chief executive, so admittedly Lincoln was on some shaky constitutional ground with that one.

That said, Lincoln didn't set up any prisoner of war camps on foreign soil as a means of circumventing icky legal problems. Fact: every single Union prisoner-of-war camp was on American soil. (During World War II, the Pentagon established Nazi prisoner-of-war camps on American soil as well -- one of which was located, coincidentally, on the actual Gettysburg battlefield.)

So while while there's very little evidence, if any, to indicate that Lincoln would've established a Gitmo-style foreign prison, I don't think President-elect Obama or any of his supporters are suggesting a 1:1 equivalency in terms of policy anyway.

But the Lincoln comparison door swings both ways, Hannity. Lincoln's Republican Party freed the slaves, while Hannity's Republican Party has employed racial divisiveness as a political tactic for many decades now -- the Southern Strategy and so forth. And just because both Hannity and Lincoln are Republicans, does Hannity support the income tax, which Lincoln established to help pay for the Civil War? Similarly, just because President-elect Obama admires Lincoln doesn't mean that he supports the suspension of habeas in the context of the war on terror, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Be that as it may, if the south secedes later this year, and President Obama considers whether to suspend habeas in Maryland so he's not surrounded on all borders by secessionist enemy territory, then we'll reconvene this debate.

What Hannity deliberately ignores here is a broader concept known as ideological realignment, or voter realignment. For example, the Democratic Party was once the southern pro-slavery party. Decades later, the Democrats became the northern party of civil rights and racial equality (with gay rights and same-sex marriage as corollaries). Through gradual shifts in ideology, demographics and party preference the two major parties have transformed and almost entirely flipped in terms of their platforms since the Civil War. Though this switcheroo isn't perfectly cut and dried, it's considered by most historians and political scientists (other than Schweikart) to be generally accurate.

Therefore -- and this is one of the great aspects of American history -- no single modern party or politician can fully "own" the ideology of any former presidents beyond, say, fifty or seventy years ago. Republicans can admire Truman and Jackson while Democrats can admire Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. In and amongst the shifting sands of ideology, there are admirable positions on both sides if you page far enough back in time. Even rewinding forty years, the secular Republican Party of Goldwater and Nixon looks outright liberal compared with Hannity's Republicanism.

So seriously, Hannity, back slowly away from the presidential history before you hurt yourself. No one is trying to patent or kidnap Abraham Lincoln. After all, they'd have to capture him first and the forests of the upper Midwest are enormous!

Order my book: One Nation Under Fear, with a foreword by Arianna Huffington. Also available in stores.