Starting with his inaugural address on Monday, the president might want to consider the example of another former Illinois lawmaker who rose from obscurity to assume the presidency at a time of peril. Like President Obama, Abraham Lincoln had to triangulate between harsh obstructionists from an opposing party and radicals from within his own. Lincoln won reelection and faced the heady task of Reconstruction. …

1. “At this second appearing to take the oath of presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first.” Lincoln’s point was that the national crisis was so obvious to his countrymen that he didn’t need a long speech to address it. A spare 700 words, the speech is now carved into the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The memorial should be a reminder to Obama that great presidents don’t fail because of their block-headed rivals; they succeed in spite of them.

2. “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.” This is as close as Lincoln came to playing the blame game. By contrast, Obama’s aides (if not the president himself) are obsessed with GOP intransigence. Their loathing clouds long-term judgment. White House advisers provide chapter and verse on how the GOP will block the president’s agenda, but they have a hard time articulating how he’ll overcome his harsh experience—and what his ultimate legacy will be. Even when their assessment of the GOP is accurate (and it often is), the short-sightedness is detrimental.