One of my all-time favorite movie lines is from "2010," the sequel to "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Space program director Victor Milson is updating Dr. Heywood Floyd -- then traveling to Jupiter aboard a Russian spacecraft -- about deteriorating US-Russian relations back on Earth. The president, he explained, had just spoken to a joint session of Congress.
"He evoke Lincoln," Milson says, wearily. "Whenever a president is gonna get us into serious trouble, they always use Lincoln."
That line has come back to me more than once during a weekend that saw roughly 89,675 references to our 16th President on CNN alone.
As we all know, President-Elect Obama spent his Saturday re-creating the last leg of Lincoln's train ride to Washington, where he managed to work in the "better angels" line at least once. He spent a good portion of Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial.
Tomorrow, he'll take th Oath of Office on the Bible Lincoln used for his First Inaugural, then dine on modern interpretations of some of Lincoln's favorite foods served on replicas of Mary Lincoln's china.
I half-expect to wake up tomorrow to find half the Capitol dome missing, to make it look more 1861-ish.
Symbolism is like salt: its something to be sprinkled over an event to enhance the flavor. What's happening this week is more akin to pouring MSG on by the ladle-full.
Obviously, not all of this flows directly from Barack Obama. He's not picking out menus or china, for example.
But the people that surround him are clearly, consciously trying to drape him in Lincoln's mantle, and he is clearly, consciously going along with it. And it's a bit jarring for those of us who wish Obama well, but aren't really invested in the myth-making
History and historical memory are two different things.
From his public comments and writings, it's clear that Obama's Lincoln is the kindly Father Abraham, who freed the slaves from their chains, was never too proud to listen to his rivals, who saved the Union and died for our nation's sins in the moment of that greatest triumph.
That's the Lincoln we've enshrined as a nineteen-foot high statue in a replica of the Temple of Zeus on our National Mall.
The Lincoln of history is much more complicated. He was the good and decent man who accepted rivals in his Cabinet as the price of doing business in a volatile political climate and with one or two exceptions didn't much listen to anything they said; who was morally opposed to slavery in theory but didn't do much about it in fact until it became a point of diplomatic and political necessity, who held the Union together by scrapping the most critical parts of the Constitution when necessary, and who died violently just as the work of rebuilding had begun.
That Lincoln would probably be mortified to find himself enshrined as a nineteen-foot high statue in a replica of the Temple of Zeus, consigned to be wedged forever between the Capitol and the national cemetery begun under his watch.
Everyone should celebrate tomorrow however they see fit. But once the hoopla settles down, and we get back to business, I hope that everyone will take the opportunity to take a little time during this bicentennial birthday year to learn a little bit about the real Abraham Lincoln -- the complex, driven, bad-joke-telling man of his time -- and not the marble man he has become.
Last week: I went on a bit about Keith Olbermann and his Palin Obsession , pled, in vain, for a one-line Inaugural Address, and chronicled the latest in Sarah Palin's vicious attacks on the helpless media. It was a lot of Palin for one week, I know.