Woodward explores Lincoln's impact on recent presidents

Woodward explores Lincoln's impact on recent presidents

URBANA — In front of a packed Foellinger Auditorium, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward kicked off the "New Lincoln" lecture series by discussing the impact of Abraham Lincoln on modern presidents.

Woodward gave the first in the 10-speaker series "The New Lincoln Lectures: What Abraham Lincoln Means to the 21st Century" sponsored by the UI's College of Law.

Woodward, the Washington Post reporter of Watergate fame, started off the lecture by talking about the eight presidents — from Nixon to Obama — he has covered over the past 40 years and the impact Lincoln had on them. Unsurprisingly, Woodward called President Richard Nixon the "opposite" of Lincoln.

However, Woodward praised Nixon's successor Gerald Ford as pragmatic in the fallout from Watergate and praised Ford's pardon of Nixon because it helped the country move on, even though it was very unpopular at the time — especially to the reporter who uncovered Nixon's corruption.

But when writing his book "Shadow," Woodward said he got to talk to Ford about the decision, and he realized Ford did the right thing.

"He acted preemptively to get Nixon off the front page and out of our lives," Woodward said. "What looked like corruption initially was actually an act of courage. That was sobering for someone in my business."

Woodward also talked about the role Lincoln had on Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

When discussing President Barack Obama, Woodward compared Obama's dislike of war in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech to Lincoln's dislike of the Civil War.

"Lincoln agreed that brutal aggression was the only way to subdue the rebellion," Woodward said. He also said Obama, who dislikes war, recognized that sometimes there is a need for it.

Woodward only discussed the current political climate in limited terms, but said the country that Lincoln viewed as an experiment is still not finished.

"Lincoln realized failure was possible. The country was young and not yet powerful. In truth, in 2016, the experiment is not over," Woodward said. While introducing Woodward, law Dean Vikram Amar called Woodward "America's reporter of record" and said his book "The Brethren: An Inside Look at the Supreme Court" inspired him to go to law school.