Ken Burns Compares Obama to Lincoln
By Alec MacGillis
CONCORD, N.H. -- If Barack Obama does win the Democratic presidential nomination, don't be surprised if there is a 10-part black-and-white documentary television series with a an alternately lugubrious and folksy soundtrack chronicling it all a few years from now. Filmmaker Ken Burns -- maker of the "Civil War," "Baseball" and other series -- today jumped into the fray to endorse Obama, hailing him for his "moral courage" and "unironic posture" and comparing him at one point to another Illinois politician Burns knows a bit about, Abraham Lincoln.
"While others find themselves mired in their past actions, he is presenting a vision for the future that is not only possible but essential to our survival as a nation," Burns said, in a conference call with reporters that took on a loftier tone than is typical of most endorsements. "We need someone who is authentic, someone who will inevitably make mistakes just like every president going back to George Washington, but someone who is themselves and authentic....Someone who is able to dream, someone who is able to suggest a future that isn't so completely tied to the past."
Burns, who lives in Walpole, N.H., and supported Al Gore and John Kerry in the past two New Hampshire primaries, said he was planning to remain officially neutral this time around but was "compelled" to come out for Obama after being upset by what he saw as the negative turn taken by the campaign of Hillary Clinton last week, when a Clinton adviser in New Hampshire raised questions about Obama's past drug use and Clinton noted in her favor that she would have "no surprises" as a Democratic nominee. "I'm really disappointed in the tone the campaign has taken on their part," said Burns, who noted that he has been friendly with the Clintons for several decades. "I'm sure she's getting some bad advice and will clean up her act."
A reporter asked Burns whether his praise for Obama's appealing to voters' "better angels" instead of their "baser" instincts was undermined by the Obama campaign's mailing of a flier in New Hampshire this week criticizing Clinton for her attacks on his health care plan. Burns said he was not aware of the flier, and Dayton Duncan, a New Hampshire author supporting Obama who was also on the call, said the flier was a legitimate rebuttal to an unfair attack.
To rebut concerns about Obama's lack of experience -- which were raised explicitly by Bill Clinton last week -- Burns noted that Lincoln had come into the White House with much less Washington experience than other leading politicians of the 1850s. With the country in such a perilous state at the time, he said, one might have thought it needed an "old pro" like William Seward, when in fact, Burns said, "what the country really needed was a wiry, relatively inexperienced" person, Abe Lincoln. In this regard, he argued, history may be repeating itself.
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