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"From Lincoln to Obama"; Lincoln's Legacy; Bridging the Centuries; Common Ground; Common Ground of Illinois; Lincoln Obama Comparison; The Home Front; First Lady of Fashion

Aired February 12, 2009 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: From a legacy forged to a legacy in the making "FROM LINCOLN TO OBAMA," we continue our day long special event, bridging the centuries between the 16th president and the 44th president of the United States. Two leaders separated clearly by time, but closer than ever really on this day, which is Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday.

No matter what day it is, the overriding thought on the mind of course is the economy, the struggling economy. Let's start with a quick look at the big board on Wall Street -- looks like we don't have the big board, but any idea if the Dow is up or down today, Stephanie Elam?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It was down.

O'BRIEN: Oh, Stephanie says -- there we go -- it looks like...

ELAM: And I'm right.

O'BRIEN: Yep, she is right, down 169 points. Although Stephanie Elam, who is our business correspondent, we'll be talking to her in just a moment, not exactly putting herself out on a limb...

ELAM: No...

O'BRIEN: ... talking about the Dow going down today.

ELAM: (INAUDIBLE)

O'BRIEN: Exactly. You can see the numbers there. As President Obama, though, looks ahead to tackling the economy and some of the huge problems in the economy, he's talked a lot about looking back to President Lincoln. He could be asking himself, what would Lincoln do. Our next guest has the answer to that. David Von Drehle is "TIME" Magazine's editor-at-large. He wrote an article called "What Would Lincoln Do?" And he joins us.

Nice to see you, sir, thanks for being with us. You know the man has been dead for like 135 years. How do you form an opinion on what a president from that era would do in this day?

DAVID VON DREHLE, EDITOR AT LARGE, "TIME" MAGAZINE: You know, it's interesting. Abraham Lincoln long before he became devoted to issues of what to do about slavery, how to save the union, the reason he really got into politics was his strong economic philosophy as a young man and he had his own experiences with economic crashes, including one in 1837, when he was a young member of the Illinois State Legislature.

And believe it or not, they were dealing with questions of how to prop up a failing bank, and whether the government should spend money on infrastructure, as we now call it. Things like roads and bridges and railroads and canals in order to build the economy. And so Lincoln in fact had very strong opinions about some of the same sorts of issues that we're facing now.

O'BRIEN: What was the tone like? I mean was it the same tone that we are hearing from Washington, D.C. now, which is in a nutshell, not a super-friendly tone? Or you know -- or was it a different era where they didn't have basically the filibusters, you know on the Senate floor, et cetera, et cetera?

(CROSSTALK)

VON DREHLE: It was a bitterly divided time, even more so perhaps than now. The president of the United States at the time, Andrew Jackson, felt that all the problems in the economy were caused by banks, and Lincoln felt exactly the opposite. He felt the economy couldn't grow without banks. And so even when banks failed, they needed more capital, more money put in, just as we're discussing now. In fact, one time Lincoln felt so strongly about protecting the State Bank of Illinois, that he had helped to charter, that in order to try to prevent a vote to kill the bank, he climbed out the window of the State Capitol.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, you know what, compared to today's politics...

VON DREHLE: That's right.

O'BRIEN: ... you're right, that does kind of pale in comparison, doesn't it?

VON DREHLE: That's right nobody's had to go out the windows yet.

O'BRIEN: Not yet, it could still happen. You know there were two major crashes we know during Lincoln's era. And how do you think, when you look back at the guidance that President Obama would get from someone like a President Lincoln, what would be the upside in taking a page from Lincoln's book? And what would be the down side, frankly, of taking a page from Lincoln's book?

VON DREHLE: Well, I think Lincoln's philosophy had something that speaks really to both of the major parties, both the progressives and the conservatives in America. On the progressive side, he was a strong believer in a government role in building the economy. In his day and age, that meant building roads and railroads and canals and so forth, so that farmers and small craftsmen could bring their goods to market and the economy could grow.

And he was willing to spend heavily in the present in order to yield the benefits that he believed would come in the future. And that in fact did come from the economic development of the United States. But, he would -- didn't believe in big government just for government sake. He wasn't interested in building up already huge fortunes. He believed that the economy and the United States had to be built around the small businessman, the individual working their way up, just as Lincoln did in his own life, starting with nothing, working for wages, saving their money so that they could start their own small business.

And put other people to work. And so that is sort of -- has been the backbone of the Republican Party for some time. And so if you put those two together, I think he'd say, the government is right now to be putting money into the economy in a tough time, but that we have to keep our eye on the real purpose of the American economy, which is to create opportunity for the little guy, not necessarily to make already rich people richer.

O'BRIEN: David, I'm going to bring in Stephanie Elam, who is our business correspondent. Stephanie, you heard what David had to say. Walk us through a little more closely the circumstances around that crash of 1837.

ELAM: You know it's interesting, because the more you examine it, the more you can see just how similar these two periods are, from today versus 1837. And if you take a look, you had at the time cheap credit. This is a time when the whole idea of paper was coming into the markets, no longer using gold and silver. And people found credit was pretty cheap.

They could go out, get a loan and go out and buy land. So if you take a look at how things were brought around, you've got cheap credit, we both saw -- saw that in both times. We saw that now, which led to the housing boom. People were buying up houses, back then it was just land obviously. And then because of that speculation, and then the failure of it, it led to the failure of banks, because then when they wanted to see that the money was backed by solid gold or silver, that led to a problem.

Very similar to the problem -- to the times that we're seeing now, which was the same thing. People were getting credit for such, you know, cheap rates. They could get it and then go buy another house and another house and then they're renting it out, but then they've got too much to hold onto, so very similar to the time that we see now.

O'BRIEN: I guess if there's a silver lining, the market came back. I mean we know that because it crashed again in '57. But there was a -- was Lincoln standing out there alone saying put money into the system, kind of a lone -- you know a lone voice...

ELAM: From what I gather, he was kind of, you know, pushing for this. It was something that was not necessarily popular. But once people saw that they could do so much with banks, then after the U.S. bank failed, then they saw these other smaller banks jump up and that's when that sort of change of how easy it was to get credit started. But he did believe in banks. He did believe that it was key to drive the economy and to help the small businessman grow and then help out somebody else.

O'BRIEN: David, it's interesting in a way, I think Lincoln even more than how he felt about slavery, how he felt about economics was really where his maybe first passion was. Because some of what I've read about his feelings on slavery, he felt slavery made the playing field unequal for white men, the men who had slaves could get ahead of men -- white men who did -- could not afford slaves. So he wasn't so much interested, it seemed, in my reading, in the sort of moral issues of black equality with whites. It was more like the equality between white people who could afford slaves and white people who could not afford slaves.

VON DREHLE: I think that's where he started out, absolutely. He eventually, I think, became very committed to the idea of a moral equality, certainly, between the races. And in fact, that's part of what so inflamed John Wilkes Booth (ph), you know going back to your previous segment on the assassination. Booth was horrified by how far Lincoln had taken the country in the direction of equality. But what -- where Lincoln started was a conviction that the -- you could not have political liberty. You couldn't be free politically if you didn't have economic liberty, if you didn't have the right to keep what you earned.

And slavery is absolutely emphatically the opposite, people doing the work, but having no property right. And so this was the opposite of what Lincoln believed economically. And when he looked at the aristocracy in the South of generation after generation of white landowners, not working at all, and yet becoming the wealthiest people in America at that time, he was outraged. And he felt that the two systems, the aristocracy of the south and the free market of the North could not, as he put it, continue as a house divided against itself.

O'BRIEN: It is an absolutely...

VON DREHLE: One system or the other...

O'BRIEN: Yeah and it makes it all even more interesting story for the story of Lincoln. As we talked about, 14,000 books have been written about these very topics. David Von Drehle, thank you very much for being with us. We certainly appreciate it from "TIME" magazine. Stephanie Elam, our correspondent appreciate it.

The U.S. Mint is adding its two cents -- get it -- its two cents on the Lincoln Bicentennial, actually, really four cents. The Mint has redesigned the tail side of the penny in honor of today's milestone, got to make it to 200 before they'll change the penny for you. There are four scenes that showcase (INAUDIBLE) early life.

The log cabin where he was born rolls out today. Others come out later this year. They depict his rail splitting days, his career in politics and his ascent to Washington complete with the U.S. Capitol and its dome which was not finished, if you take a look at that artwork there, the dome hadn't been finished yet when he moved in. The Lincoln penny was born 100 years ago, right around the centennial of his birth. Coming up in just a few minutes, we're going to take you back to Springfield, Illinois. Kyra Phillips is there, been talking with some college students who are studying Lincoln in history class. But their generation could be defined by the man who's in the White House now. We're going to talk about that in just about 10 minutes.

First though, let's get right back to Fredricka Whitfield with an update from Atlanta -- Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks so much, Soledad. I'm at the CNN World Headquarters here in Atlanta.

So the checks are not in the mail. But it looks as if the president will have an economic stimulus bill to sign by Presidents' Day. As you know, if you've been watching CNN, a compromise package worth $789 billion came out of House and Senate negotiations and now goes back to each chamber for one last vote. Spending makes up 65 percent of the bottom line, tax cuts 35 percent.

And speaking of cuts, Mr. Obama's signature campaign pledge has been downsized. It is now a $400 tax break for most workers, $800 for couples instead of the $500 and $1,000 the president wanted. The House is expected to pass the plan tomorrow, the Senate soon afterwards.

The jobless picture looks a little brighter, but still pretty dim. Six hundred twenty-three thousand laid off workers made their first trips to unemployment offices just last week, 8,000 fewer than the week before. The number still tops analysts' estimates and dwarfs the numbers from a year ago.

Now back to New York and Soledad O'Brien with more of our special "FROM LINCOLN TO OBAMA" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know there's an old saying Abraham Lincoln had about one of his opponents. He said, if you stop lying about me, I'm -- if you don't stop lying about me, I'm going to have to start telling the truth about you. That's what we're going to do. All right? That's what we're going to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That was President Obama on the campaign trail, channeling his inner Lincoln. Continuing with our day-long special event "From Lincoln to Obama". I'm Soledad O'Brien reporting from New York.

You really can't link the two presidents without going through their common ground of Springfield, Illinois. That brings us right back to CNN's Kyra Phillips who's there for us today. Hey, Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Soledad. I remember reading that Barack Obama actually said that when he wrote speeches, he sort of channeled Abraham Lincoln. He would see him and feel him as he sat down to write his speeches, which takes me back to when I was in elementary school, not that I mentioned it like 20 times, right, that I'm excited to be back here in my hometown.

I came across this picture from the third grade when I came out here to Springfield on a field trip, learning about the history of Abraham Lincoln. And you know what's interesting? Thinking about what I learned then and what I'm learning now, it's all because of Barack Obama. And I'm going to explain why in just a second.

I want to take you through the -- this is one of the exhibits at the museum here in Springfield. Something that opened up in 2005. Barack Obama actually dedicated this museum. This talks about like what I learned in elementary school, the early days of Abraham Lincoln. Born in Kentucky, moved to Springfield. He loved to read.

He came from humble beginnings. Didn't have a lot of money. And then as we moved through the childhood years, we're going to work our way into one of the most powerful parts of this exhibit, and that is of course about the Emancipation Proclamation and the fact that Abraham Lincoln freed slaves. I learned a lot about that in school as well when I was growing up in this neighborhood.

But it's very interesting how the Barack Obama element has changed the discussion about Abraham Lincoln and his connection between the two. And that's where I bring in my University of Illinois students today. Hi, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: So I was just explaining to Soledad, from when I was a kid, and we all grew up here, I'm a lot older than you guys and you know I learned a lot about Abraham Lincoln and what he did, and freeing the slaves, and how he was very progressive for his time. Now you add this Barack Obama dynamic and the discussions are changing, particularly about racism.

Charles Olivier, we were talking about. As African-Americans, how is sort of the history books or what we're learning in school here in Illinois, how has it changed since Barack Obama came into the picture? Charles?

CHARLES OLIVIER, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS SOPHOMORE: Well, I believe that Abraham Lincoln did you know pave the way for Barack Obama, although there's a common misconception that, you know, Abraham Lincoln was just pro -- anti-racism. And it's not -- I don't believe that's really the case. I know he did own slaves now and we call them racists to our standards. But he did do a lot regardless if it was political decisions, if there were political decisions or military decisions, it did happen. And without that happening, we -- Barack Obama wouldn't be able to run for president.

PHILLIPS: Yolanda?

YOLANDA BEAMAN, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, SPRINGFIELD: And just to reiterate what Charles has said, people discuss racism in a sense of this time and not his time. Racism may not have been racism the same way as it was when Abraham Lincoln was president. And, you know, the discussion about slavery, and his freeing of the slaves and the discussion of Barack Obama is important, because we're both -- they were both economical decisions personally to me. And with that connection being there, you also still have to understand that that was 200 years. A lot has happened between Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama.

PHILLIPS: So, Mike, do you think the discussion, if you grow up here in Illinois, the discussion about Abraham Lincoln and the history of Abraham Lincoln tied to issues of race and paving the way for Barack Obama, will sort of change the dynamic of the discussions?

MIKE ZIRI, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS GRAD STUDENT: I think so. And I want to comment on what I think is one of Lincoln's greatest contributions to modern America and that is before Lincoln, the idea of America was liberty and freedom. After Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, he injected equality. So you had liberty and equality. And I think that helped pave the way for Barack Obama and those changing attitudes. And I think Obama is changing people's minds about race. And I think it's for the better. And I'm proud of that, coming from Lincoln's hometown here.

PHILLIPS: All right, guys, we're going to talk some more coming up. Soledad, obviously a lot more to talk about, in addition to the discussion of race. All of these students have somehow either met Barack Obama, been involved with campaigning. They're excited about seeing his speech here tonight. So we're going to discuss other policies that they feel are important to talk about now in this lifetime, when it comes to remembering Abraham Lincoln, what he did and how Barack Obama in many ways is sort of changing the dynamic of history.

O'BRIEN: All right, Kyra, we'll continue to check in with you throughout the afternoon.

We've been hearing those Lincoln/Obama comparisons of course for months, been looking at them all day, now we want to hear your thoughts on the issue. Josh Levs is going to be back with your feedback in just a little bit. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. We'll get back to our special day of programming "FROM LINCOLN TO OBAMA in a moment.

But first home stretch for the stimulus package. Between now and Presidents' Day, both Houses of Congress are expected to pass a $789 billion compromise and send it to the president's desk. CNN's Brianna Keilar has been watching this all transpire up on the Hill. Any suspense left?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not a ton, no. There's going to be a vote tomorrow in the House. Of course, we do still have to see how these votes shake out, Fredricka. But yes, we're expecting this vote tomorrow on this package that has been agreed to between the Senate and the House, $789 billion. A big part of it tax cuts that most Americans will see, $400 for individuals, $800 for families.

And a couple of popular tax credits that were pared down but they're still there. Up to $8,000 for first-time home buyers, a tax credit for those who buy new cars, where the sales tax that you make on your purchase, you can deduct. Also, it's important to note that some House Democrats not happy with the final agreement, because of how spending, particularly on education, got pared down.

That really at the request and the demand of those few Senate Republicans who were onboard. And this is one of the reasons why we're seeing this vote in the House going on tomorrow instead of today. Because House Democrats want to go over this bill with a fine- toothed comb -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Brianna Keilar, on Capitol Hill, thanks so much, appreciate it.

All right, we now know how strong the tornado was that leveled parts of Lone Grove, Oklahoma. The National Weather Service says winds were around 170 miles an hour. Searchers are still looking for possible victims from Tuesday night's storm which killed at least nine people. The same system also pounded much of the East Coast.

In Ohio, it knocked out power to more than a quarter million people. High winds are blowing through the Northeast as well today.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: A special court has dealt a blow to parents of autistic children who claim that certain vaccines cause the disorder.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

President Obama returns to Springfield, Illinois, later today. It, of course, is the place where Mr. Obama launched his campaign for the White House. Springfield also played a central role in the life of Abraham Lincoln. Kyra Phillips has been covering that for us this afternoon and she joins us live from there.

Hey, Kyra.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS (voice-over): This is a tale of two presidents united through the best of times, the worst of times. And how Springfield, Illinois, launched two progressive politicians destined to make history.

(on camera): So when you go through Lincoln's home, and then you see Barack Obama's now the president of the United States, what were you thinking about going through the house?

ANN TSCHETTER, LINCOLN HOME VISITOR: That Lincoln's going, "This rocks!" Or whatever he would've used in 19th century lingo.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Just imagine what Abraham Lincoln was thinking at home, sitting in his parlor, relaxing in his rocker...

(on camera): ... and writing here at his desk. He would be the leader to free slaves, fulfilling the Declaration of Independence, declaring all men are created equal.

(voice-over): Two hundred years later

B. OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

PHILLIPS: Barack Obama would reach the pinnacle of that ideal.

BROOK SIMPSON, LINCOLN HOME VISITOR: This is the Lincoln dream, it right to rise, culminating in a different way with the first African-American as president of the United States.

PHILLIPS: Obama, a law professor and civil rights lawyer, inspired by what took place in this law office centuries ago. Lincoln, the lawyer. A strong orator with a sense of morality, open to new ideas, listening to his critics. Two attorneys, two different lifetimes; both men dedicated to being scholars of the constitution.

KEN WINKLE, LINCOLN HOME VISITOR: Some lawyers and some politicians will just do anything to win. But I think the spirit of working together to do the right thing and do the most good for the most people, was important to Lincoln, and seems that we're moving toward a time when...

PHILLIPS (on camera): It's the same with Obama.

WINKLE: Exactly.

PHILLIPS: And it was here in the old Capitol that Abraham Lincoln gave his famous, "House Divided Speech." "A house divided against itself cannot stand," he proclaimed.

Sound familiar? Fast forward February 10th, 2007, Lincoln came to life here as if it were 1858.

OBAMA: It's because of the millions who rallied to his cause, that we're no longer divided, North and South, slave and free.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Barack Obama announcing his candidacy for president of the United States. And for the first time in history, in the humble heart of the Midwest, we all witnessed Lincoln's dream and Obama's reality. Abe Lincoln knew who we were, he just didn't know what we might become. Until now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: And let's continue that discussion, "until now." Now, with the students at university of Illinois, talking about the road from Lincoln to Obama. We've been discussing all kinds of issues this afternoon. We talked about race. Let's talk about war, which would lead me to you, Gila. Lincoln was a president during a time of war; Obama is inheriting two. Talk about the connection about Obama recognizing your brother in the military.

GUILA AHERN, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOS SENIOR: My brother met Barack right before he was shipping out to Iraq in a small town in East Moline, Illinois. And just was very impressed about why my brother had absolute faith in the country and why he wanted to serve our country. And then while Seamus (ph) was in Iraq, the two emailed and kept in contact. I just think that was very impressionable to have our U.S. Senator contacting him and making sure that, you know, Seamus (ph) was OK and his unit was OK. And they kept in close contact him when he returned. So, I just think Barack's support of the troops is something truly to be commended.

PHILLIPS: I tell you what, Barack Obama has mobilized all of you on so many different levels. In many ways, that's what Abraham Lincoln did as well.

Rene, you know, with regard to gay and lesbians, you have been incredibly impressed by Barack Obama by and his policies and conversations. Tell me why.

RENEE RATHJEN, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS JUNIOR: I think this is the first time in contemporary politics that - a politician has really gone out there to include our community and really not be afraid to say, I stand up and include gay and lesbian people and I'm going to include their policies and I'm going to humanize your community. And I'm going to go out on a limb and take a risk.

And he's always really supported our community. He even had a specific limb in his campaign, "Obama Pride," to reach out to our community.

PHILLIPS: You know, what? Let's take a look at that. We've got the clip. Let's go ahead and roll it. OK. Now, we don't have it, or we do?

OK. I apologize. We don't have that commercial.

But you were talking, you actually said - we today had a chance to see it. And it has Barack Obama saying exactly - what was it that he said that just resonated with you?

RATHJEN: It's actually a quote from Michelle in this video. And they're walking in a gay pride parade, I believe in Des Moines, Iowa, and she says, "We're here because people marched from Selma to Stonewall." And that connection is so meaningful to me because we have two communities that are marginalized that have had their own separate struggles, but we unit in many ways. And there are people who have intersexual identities that are included in both of those communities and he's ready to fight.

PHILLIPS: I now I'm told we have it. Let's roll it. RATHJEN: All right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. OBAMA: When I am president of the United States, gays and lesbians will have somebody who will fight for equal rights for them, because they are our brothers and they are our sisters.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: No matter who we are, or where we come from...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: So we were listening to Barack Obama, listening to Michelle Obama there, talking about how that has mobilized you as a lesbian. It's affected, in many positive ways, the gay lesbian community.

We have talked about war, your brother serving in the military and how Barack Obama has mobilized you.

All of you have been a part somehow of supporting Barack Obama. What was the highlight, Charles, for you, with regard to Barack Obama and being mobilized by him?

OLIVIER: Well, personally, as African-American male, I kind of feel like Barack is the quintessence of the African-American dream - American dream. And that's what really mobilized me and inspired me to donate to the campaign. As a Resident assistant, I don't make that much money.

PHILLIPS: Notice how I teed him up. Go ahead, tell Soledad what you did to show your support for Barack Obama.

OLIVIER: Every check I would get I would try to donate at least $30.00, which was more than half of my paycheck. Just for a t-shirt, but it was for the cause. And all of us, I believe, contributed to phone banking and reaching out to the voters in any way we could.

PHILLIPS: See, that's what's been very amazing. That's one of the amazing parts of talking to you guys, and you brought this point up, Guila, is how Barack Obama really got into the grass roots and for the first time...

AHERN: His campaign, I mean not taking what I was saying, he didn't take the public financing. So by taking the private financing, he was able to reach out to the Guilas and Charles and ask for $10.00 and $20.00. So the way that he mobilized voters who have never donated to a campaign before, it was just remarkable. And just calling your R.A. and calling other college students and just the basic grassroots campaigning was astonishing at how he was able to mobilize it and make it work.

PHILLIPS: Everybody else give up all their money or was Charles the only one here?

AHERN: I donated.

PHILLIPS: You guys, thank you so much.

Soledad, and of course, all of these students, they've been a part of the campaign in one way or another. And that is, once again, why they are here today. They want to see Barack Obama speaking tonight, hear what he has to say. And they're taking all this back into the classroom and incorporating that into the Abraham Lincoln of Illinois discussions and history classes. And incorporating someone they see that has a number of connections, talking about similarities, and also the differences. It's sort of changing the dynamic of Illinois history, I guess, as we move forward with regard to education here.

O'BRIEN: No question about it. There's 14,000 books more, actually, written about Lincoln. I can imagine over the next 10, 20 years, there will be many more than that.

All right, Kyra, thank you very much. Thanks, of course, to the young people with you. Go ahead.

PHILLIPS: Well I was just - you brought up an interesting point. I was reading that all the books that are out on Abraham Lincoln, apparently Jesus and Shakespeare, they have the majority of the books and then comes Abraham Lincoln. So I'm curious, now that Barack Obama has created this energy about Abraham Lincoln, that the book sales will go even past those numbers, the amount of books that are out there. What do you think?

O'BRIEN: That's a tough call, competing with Jesus and Shakespeare. You got to say,

All right, Kyra, thanks very much.

So many comparisons, of course, have been drawn between President Lincoln and President Obama. Are they fair? Are they overblown? We've invited you to weigh in on that. And Josh Levs is joining us (INAUDIBLE) us from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, that to you and Kyra, now we're going to start hearing from people trying to compare Abraham Lincoln to Jesus, right? I'm going to jump all over that one.

Take a look here folks. I told you last hour, on Facebook before having this discussion, well you've been all over it. What we're going to do is grab - show you some of the quotes we've gotten in the last few minutes. Let's look at this graphic we have up for you. People weighing in basically on this question: Does it make sense to draw these comparisons? And we're going to start off with this: "Besides bringing change to our country when we needed it most, President Obama and President Lincoln should both be remembered for their active roles in human rights. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and President Obama is closing Guantanamo Bay. He is promising just treatment not simply to Americans but to all humans."

All right, we got another one here: "Abraham Lincoln: A two- term president political (and military) genius who saw this country through a crisis that easily could have wiped it from the map - and was then martyred for it. Barack Obama: President for three weeks during a worse-than-usual recession. Don't get me wrong - Obama might yet turn out to be one of our great presidents. But you want to compare him to Lincoln right now? Or Kennedy? Or FDR? Or even Reagan? Come on - get some perspective, folks."

And one more I want to get to you here. This one from Marcy Tanter, who wrote us this: "It's almost cruel to make comparisons because Obama can't possibly come close to Lincoln. Come back and do this in four years, when Obama's in his second term."

All right, now quickly, I'll show you how you can take part in this discussion if you want to. We have the information for you here. One final graphic for you. It's at Facebook.com. I know lots of you already on it. All you need to do once you're on there is search Josh Levs CNN. And Soledad told me last hour, I'm the last person in America to crawl on the Facebook bandwagon, but it is up there now.

O'BRIEN: Said with love. Said with love, but it's true. All right, Josh, hopefully you get lots of feedback. I got to say, I think that the right answer is somewhere in between. I mean, obviously our comparisons that aren't just tall and lanky, but also you're right, the man's president for three weeks. So the answer is somewhere in between. I take the moderate vote on that.

Josh, thanks a lot.

LEVS: You got it.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Fredricka Whitfield, she's got the latest news for us. And then we'll have some closing thoughts as we get ready to finish taking a look at Lincoln and his legacy and his political heir, apparently, Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE LANCTOT, CNN IREPORTER: Hello. My name is Bruce Lanctot. I'm from Cape May, New Jersey. And I think Obama is like Lincoln, because they're both concerned about the welfare of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. We'll get back to our special day of programming, "FROM LINCOLN TO OBAMA," in a moment.

But first, in Congress to the White House to your house, that's the path awaiting the $789 billion economic stimulus plan that House and Senate negotiators hammered out yesterday. It breaks down to 65 percent new spending, 35 percent tax cuts. Speaking of cuts, Mr. Obama's signature campaign pledge has been downsized. It is now a $400.00 tax break for most workers, $800.00 for couples, instead of the $500.00 and $1,000.00 the president wanted. The House is expected to pass the plan tomorrow. The Senate soon afterwards. The jobless picture looks a little brighter, but still pretty dim. Six-hundred-twenty-three-thousand laid-off workers made their first trips to unemployment offices last week; 8,000 fewer than the week before. The number still tops analysts' estimates and dwarfs the numbers from a year ago.

A few billion of that new economic rescue plan will go to weatherize one million homes a year. So how will that kick start the economy and create jobs?

Here now is CNN's Elaine Quijano.

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ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president wants to spend billions of dollars to weatherize one million homes a year. An idea that doesn't exactly wow comedian Jon Stewart.

B. OBAMA: As a consequence of weatherization, their energy bills go down and we reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What would be a more effective stimulus package than that?

JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Yes, we... (snoring)

QUIJANO: But the president argues weatherizing cannot only save homeowners money on their energy bills, it can also generate jobs. He bristles at critics who dismiss the idea.

B. OBAMA: Don't suggest that somehow that's wasteful spending. That's exactly what this country needs.

QUIJANO: According to the environmental group, The Natural Resources Defense Council, spending about $3 billion on home weatherizing would create 50,000 jobs at a cost of $60,000 each. Yet one economist asks, what happens when the stimulus money runs out?

DAVID KREUTZER, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: These are not real jobs that will be sustained after the stimulus package is over. So it's almost cruel, a mirage to tell them, look, we're training you for giving you skills for jobs of the future.

QUIJANO: That debate is not academic for weatherization companies like Housewarmers in Maryland, where President Timothy Kenny hopes to expand his staff of seven.

TIMOTHY KENNY, HOUSEWARMERS: Best case scenario, you know, I may hire 40 people.

QUIIJANO: Kenny says unemployed construction workers can retrain for weatherization jobs and return to building new houses when the economy picks up again.

KENNY: The ramp-up's going to be a tremendous challenge to get qualified technicians out in the field to produce these units, but I think we're up to that challenge. QUIJANO (on camera): Kenny believes, on average, a skilled construction worker can be retrained as a weatherization technician in about a month.

Elaine Quijano, CNN, Washington.

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WHITFIELD: A special court has dealt a blow to parents of autistic children who claim certain vaccines caused the disorder. The court ruled the evidence was overwhelmingly against the parents' claims and denied them compensation. The decision came today in three test cases heard in 2007. More than 5,500 cases have been filed by families seeking compensation.

As always, "Team Sanchez" is back there working on the next hour in the NEWSROOM. What you got, Rick?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know the stimulus package we covered so much yesterday, because apparently the Republicans and Democrats had that conference committee and they've come to some kind of a deal. Guess what?

WHITFIELD: Yes?

SANCHEZ: The deal does not look so good right now.

WHITFIELD: It doesn't look good?

SANCHEZ: There's issues. There's problems. And it's different than the problems that they had before. We're going to be developing that story. It's coming at us as we speak. And as we're getting information, we're going to be sharing it with you. We've got not one, not two, but three Congressmen who are going to give us the inside information on that.

Also, more details on that unbelievable shootout in Arizona. And a man is dragged 17 miles by a motorist who didn't even know he was dragging the guy. And it's on videotape, I'm almost sorry to say.

WHITFIELD: From the bizarre to the absurd, next hour. Thanks so much, Rick Sanchez. Appreciate it.

SANCHEZ: You got it.

WHITFIELD: All right, a new title for First Lady Michelle Obama, "America's First Lady of Fashion." Mrs. Obama is the cover girl on next month's "Vogue" magazine. She's also featured in an eight-page spread in that magazine.

CNN's Randi Kaye has a look.

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RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michelle Obama is so in vogue she's on the cover of "Vogue." ANDRE LEON TALLEY, EIDTOR AT LARGE, "VOGUE": It's big. This is big. This is history.

KAYE: "Vogue's" Andre Leon Tally wrote the article, famed photographer Annie Lebowitz took the pictures for the March issue. On the cover, the first lady in hot pink by designer Jason Wu. Inside, at the window, a sleek, black Narciso Rodriguez dress. On the couch, a J. Crew sweater set.

TALLEY: She is constantly, I'm sure, taking notes, organizing things on legal pads for her family and for her life. So that's a very natural picture.

KAYE: Mrs. Obama isn't the first, first lady to grace the cover of "Vogue." Hillary Clinton did back in 1998. She appeared in two issues of "Vogue." So did Laura Bush. The first, first lady to be featured in the magazine was Lu Hoover back in 1929. All but one, Bess Truman, have sat for a "Vogue" portrait since. Though Jackie Kennedy in 1961 wasn't photographed, she was sketched.

What makes Michelle Obama cover worthy?

TALLEY: She represents power, it's the power issue. She represents the seismic shift in our times and culture, being the first African-American first lady of our nation.

KAYE: Like Jackie Kennedy's trademark style, Mrs. Obama's free spirit seems to have captured the nation. As Jay Leno quickly learned.

JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Now I want to ask you about your wardrobe. I'm guessing about 60 grand? Sixty, 70 thousand for that outfit?

M. OBAMA: Actually, this is a J. Crew ensemble.

LENO: Really? Wow.

KAYE: Talley describes the first lady's look as, "Totally American." The clothes do not wear her, he says, she wears the clothes.

TALLEY: She's not afraid of clothes. She's not afraid of strong color. She's not afraid of silhouettes . She knows who she is and she loves having fun with her clothes.

KAYE (on camera): What this first lady wants, he says, is for women to have fun with their clothes. Don't take fashion too seriously, even if you are on the cover of "Vogue."

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

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WHITFIELD: And back to New York with Soledad O'Brien right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: As we wrap up our coverage this afternoon, I want to thank all of you for joining us. And we also want to particularly thank Professor Holloway who is from Yale University joining us with his expertise. We certainly appreciate it.

We've had a chance to remember the 16th president on his 200th birthday, an opportunity really to revisit his story. And through that remarkable story, the story of the nation, our nation, history sometimes forgets the role of Lincoln's advisers, like Frederick Douglas, a man who grew to respect and understand the president. To appreciate the fundamental ways that Lincoln changed our nation and underscore the importance of Lincoln's legacy on race. And maybe even in a bigger way, the legacy of the ability of a nation, even with its flaws, to change and grow. That more perfect union that president Barack Obama talked about in his inaugural address not a month ago. Obama has said that he admires Lincoln's humility and wisdom. Two hundred years after Lincoln's birth, we will see if President Obama will meet today's crises with that same wisdom.

Thanks for joining us. As we've taken a look back to Lincoln and forward to President Obama, I'm Soledad O'Brien reporting today.

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B. OBAMA: As Lincoln organized the forces arraigned against slavery, he was heard to say this, "A strange discordant and even hostile element, we gathered from the four winds and formed and fought to battle through." That is our purpose here today. That is why I'm in this race. Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.

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