|As DDay notes at Digby's place:
The Village has a more of a sense of bumper stickers than history, and Goodwin, whose scholarship is not exactly spotless, is a Villager in good standing, so this will probably pass through the Beltway without comment. But I hope someone in the office of the President-elect is paying attention. Pinsker doesn't even tackle the false equivalence between the Civil War and our day - the real rivals were seceding from the Union and massing an Army at the time. This was a moment that called for unity between anyone who wasn't a Confederate, necessitating Lincoln's choice - and it STILL DIDN'T WORK VERY WELL....
....Obama is talking about this "fully bipartisan government," and he's even exploring options for Republicans in major posts, and that ought to have you worried if he's basing that on a work of what amounts to fiction. If you want to broaden out the analogy, is there that big a difference between the Republicans and the Confederates, in this scenario?
DDay's conclusion then hits the nail squarely on the head:
Is it odd that the traditional media keeps parroting this concept when its application was fatally flawed and nearly sunk the Union? Or is that the point, a kind of back-door way to mandate bipartisan, "center-right" leadership on the new Administration?
Of course, that's it precisely. The concept itself is ludicrous. Its whole point is to impose an equally ludicrous orthodoxy of "thought"--if it can even be called that.
Consider the Hussein/Hitler narrative as a prototype. At the time of Munich, Adolph Hitler had the worlds most modern, powerful, and fast-growing military machine in the world. At the time we began the Iraq War, Saddam Hussein's military was more than matched by our two allies on his borders, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the northern third of his country was under de facto autonomous rule, he was hemmed in by "no-fly zones" in place for over a decade, and UN inspectors had been crawling all over his country, until we forced their withdrawal in order to attack. Yet, the sheer absurdity of the Hitler/Hussein comparison was never seriously questioned by the Versailles media. Indeed, it was damaging to one's credibility to try to point this out. Instead, the level of thinking that seemed to prevail came close to simply noting that Hitler and Hussein both wore mustaches, while their names both started with "H".
It's one thing to throw up one's hands at such brain-dead babbling. But in this case, there are enough working parts that we can examine in detail how the "thinking" involved is flawed at every stage. I'll be writing about this in some detail this weekend, but here I just want to quickly present the outlines of what's wrong, without the supporting arguments, or additional levels of detail:
- As noted by Pinsker, the original history is badly misrepresented. No valid reasoning from historical analogies can rest on false versions of history.
- As noted by DDay, the analogy between the political situation in Lincoln's time and our own is poorly drawn. Even if the "Team of Rivals" myth were true, it's not at all clear how it would apply today. In particular, Lincoln's reasoning did not include those outside his party--such as Northern Democrats, much less the traitorous Confederates--while precisely the opposite seems to be the point of employing the narrative today.
- History abounds with potential analogies, many of which contradict one another. In order to avoid be blinded by one analogy, one must have some sort of disciplined way of considering alternatives, and it's especially valuable to intentionally seek out clashing analogies, in order to probe potential weaknesses or blind spots inherent in the prime analogy. At a bare minimum, one would seem to need to consider at least three sharply different analogies, for tie-breaking purposes so that one is not simply caught between conflicting historical analogies without adequate perspective to compare them. It's also helpful to consider historical analogies that are similar to the favored one, but that contain important differences as well. However, the "Team of Rivals" myth is employed to drive out other alternatives.
These three points can be summarized as concerns about (a) the accuracy of the source of the analogy; (b) the accuracy of the mapping from the source to the present situation, and (c) the critical evaluation of the analogy and alternatives to it.
It should be very clear that the election just held symbolized a much greater change for the voters and the great mass of activists involved than it did for those on top. This gap in perceived significance has multiple dimensions, but one of them is clearly implicated here: At most, those on top see the election as heralding a change from one narrative frame to another, but with no appreciable difference in how the narrative frame is uncritically embraced and repeated ad nauseum.
This is not at all what the netroots in particular either wants or expects as a whole. Many Obama "true believers" are certainly just fine with this, but they represent Obama's own online organizing far more than the traditional netroots. Furthermore, the "true believers" faith is largely predicated on their belief that Obama will cultivate the sort of critical dialogue I am talking about. They simply do not perceive its lack at this early point.
Regardless of what Versailles does, it is incumbent on the netroots to further our own understanding of what constitutes a healthy democratic debate, based on sound critical thinking as well as--not instead of--an inclusive attitude that takes diverse viewpoints seriously. As a dominant narrative framework shaping the Versailles discourse at the dawn of Obama's term in office, nothing could bear more critical scrutiny than the "team of rivals" myth, how it is employed as well as deployed, and what it hides as well as reveals.
It's one thing to throw up one's hands at such brain-dead babbling. But in this case, there are enough working parts that we can examine in detail how the "thinking" involved is flawed at every stage. First, we need to realize that what we are witnessing here--reasoning by historical analogy--is a specific example of a much more general and pervasive form of reasoning, the use of analogy in general. We use analogical reasoning at many different levels, we are constantly comparing one thing to another, often without even realizing it. Indeed, the conscious use of analogy is much smaller than the tip of the iceberg in the grand scheme of things, and this simple fact can help us understand how analogical reason can go astray, since unconscious analogical reasoning generally works quite well, and only becomes conscious when it starts to break down.
As George Lakoff has argued since the publication of Metaphors We Live By in 1980, a great deal of our most basic reasoning involves the use of metaphorical mappings, understanding more abstract, distant or unknown areas of experience in terms of more concrete, proximate or known examples. Lakoff, who had a background in mathematics before turning to linguistics, understood this in terms of a basic mathematical concept--mapping of one domain of experience onto another. Because metaphors are so pervasive in language
As with mathematics, there are some very general principles that apply to how this works. One is that only part of the "source domain" gets mapped onto the "target domain". Another is that more than one source domain can be mapped onto the same target domain. Sometimes the alternative source domains are radically different, highlighting very different aspects of the target domain. Other times, alternative source domains can be integrated to produce a more rigorous mapping.
and Western leaders like Chamberlain saw him as potentially dangerous, but less dangerous than the Soviet Union, an avowed enemy of the capitalist system.
Is it that wise to put people in positions of power, after a triumphant election, who want the country to be "avowedly with them," as Lincoln put it?
Lincoln and the myth of 'Team of Rivals'
President Lincoln's Cabinet was far more dysfunctional than Doris Kearns Goodwin's book would have us believe.
By Matthew Pinsker
November 18, 2008
People love Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on the Lincoln presidency, "Team of Rivals." More important, for this moment in American history, Barack Obama loves it. The book is certainly fun to read, but its claim that Abraham Lincoln revealed his "political genius" through the management of his wartime Cabinet deserves a harder look, especially now that it seems to be offering a template for the new administration.
"Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet," is the way Obama has summarized Goodwin's thesis, adding, "Whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis."
That's true enough, but the problem is, it didn't work that well for Lincoln. There were painful trade-offs with the "team of rivals" approach that are never fully addressed in the book, or by others that offer happy-sounding descriptions of the Lincoln presidency.
Lincoln's decision to embrace former rivals, for instance, inevitably meant ignoring old friends -- a development they took badly. "We made Abe and, by God, we can unmake him," complained Chicago Tribune Managing Editor Joseph Medill in 1861. Especially during 1861 and 1862, the first two years of Lincoln's initially troubled administration, friends growled over his ingratitude as former rivals continued to play out their old political feuds.
In fairness, Goodwin describes several of these more difficult moments, such as when Secretary of State William Seward tried to seize political command from Lincoln during the Ft. Sumter crisis. But she passes over their consequences too easily.
Though Seward, the former New York senator who had been the Republican front-runner, eventually proved helpful to the president, the impact of repeated disloyalty and unnecessary backroom drama from him and several other Cabinet officers was a significant factor in the early failures of the Union war effort.
By December 1862, there was a full-blown Cabinet crisis.
"We are now on the brink of destruction," Lincoln confided to a close friend after being deluged with congressional criticism and confronted by resignations from both Seward and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Goodwin suggests that Lincoln's quiet confidence and impressive emotional intelligence enabled him to survive and ultimately forge an effective team out of his former rivals, but that's more wishful thinking than serious analysis.
Simon Cameron was the disgraced rival, Lincoln's failed first secretary of War. Goodwin essentially erased him from her group biography, not mentioning him in the book's first 200 pages, even though he placed third, after Seward and Lincoln, on the first Republican presidential ballot. Cameron proved so corrupt and inept that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives censured him after he was removed from office in 1862.
Chase was the defiant rival. As Goodwin acknowledges, the Treasury chief never reconciled himself to Lincoln's victory, continuously angling to replace him. Lincoln put up with this aggravation until he secured renomination and then dumped his brilliant but arrogant subordinate because, in his words, their "mutual embarrassment" was no longer sustainable.
Atty. Gen. Edward Bates was the disgusted rival. The elder statesman -- 67 when he was appointed -- never felt at home in the Lincoln Cabinet and played only a marginal role in shaping policy. He resigned late in the first term. His diary reflects deep discontent with what he considered the relentless political maneuvering of his Cabinet peers and even the president.
"Alas!" Bates wrote in August 1864, "that I should live to see such abject fear -- such small stolid indifference to duty -- such open contempt of Constitution and law -- and such profound ignorance of policy and prudence!"
Only Seward endured throughout the Civil War. He and Lincoln did become friends, and he provided some valuable political advice, but the significance of his contributions as Lincoln's secretary of State have been challenged by many historians, and his repeated fights with other party leaders were always distracting.
John Hay, one of Lincoln's closest aides, noted in his diary that by the summer of 1863, the president had essentially learned to rule his Cabinet with "tyrannous authority," observing that the "most important things he decides & there is no cavil."
Over the years, it has become easy to forget that hard edge and the once bad times that nearly destroyed a president. Lincoln's Cabinet was no team. His rivals proved to be uneven as subordinates. Some were capable despite their personal disloyalty, yet others were simply disastrous.
Lincoln was a political genius, but his model for Cabinet-building should stand more as a cautionary tale than as a leadership manual.