Continuing a tradition started by Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, President Obama attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. today, delivering a plea for unity and humility and rebuking the often-fractious tone of American politics.
Mr. Obama recalled placing his hand on Abraham Lincoln's bible during his second inauguration two weeks ago and noted, "Today, the divisions in this country are thankfully not as deep and destructive as when Lincoln led - but they are real."
Praising Lincoln's capacity to "see God in those who vehemently opposed him," the president counseled his audience to follow Lincoln's example. "In a democracy as big and as diverse as ours, we will encounter every opinion. And our task as citizens, whether we are leaders in government or business or spreading the word, is to spend our days with open hearts and open minds, to seek out the truth that exists in an opposing view, to find the common ground that allows for us as a nation and as a people to take real and meaningful action."
"And we have to do it every day, not just at a prayer breakfast," Mr. Obama cautioned. "I have to say, this is now our fifth prayer breakfast, and it is always just a wonderful event."
"But I do worry sometimes that as soon as we leave the prayer breakfast, everything that we've been talking about the whole time at the prayer breakfast seems to be forgotten - on the same day of the prayer breakfast."
"You'd like to think that the shelf life wasn't so short," he said. "I go back to the Oval Office, and I start watching the cable news networks, and it's like we didn't pray."
"My hope is that humility - that that carries over every day, every moment," he said, suggesting "that those of us with the most power and influence need to be the most humble."
The president was joined at the head table by several lawmakers, including Reps. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., and Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., and Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Olympic gold medal gymnast Gabrielle Douglas were also seated with Mr. Obama.