Gettysburg and Lincoln's second inaugural are powerful examples of the enduring influence of presidential rhetoric to mold public perceptions and attitudes. As Obama made clear in his Springfield announcement speech, he grasps what his opponents (Hillary Clinton and John McCain) never understood—that oratory is among the most powerful inspirational tools for rallying people behind a candidate or a policy idea.
Like Lincoln's best speeches, Obama's Iowa caucus victory speech, his address on race in Philadelphia, and his convention speech on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" address could be documents that students will read decades from now. Lincoln, Obama approvingly said, "tells us that there is power in words."
It may seem strange that a president from the 19th century would inspire Obama—the second president of the 21st. But Obama's affection for Lincoln and his efforts to grasp the secrets to Lincoln's enduring hold on the imagination of the American people strongly suggest that in addition to Democratic icons like FDR and the Kennedys, Lincoln will have his own special place in Obama's thoughts as he tackles the monumental challenges that await him come January.
Matthew Dallek is a visiting assistant professor at the University of California Washington Center.