Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lincoln Springs Eternal

Because I never get through a full week without slip-sliding into the Slough of Despond -- man that sucker has moveable boundaries; always sneaking up on me -- because of that I never have the pleasure of doing a whole week's schedule. For example, yesterday being Monday (which is word day) I'd planned to put up umbrageous.

I found this gem of a word in a book of O. Henry short stories that the Baron hefted home from the library. A very large book, the size of a modest version of the Oxford Dictionary if someone had used a very small font. So it's a book best read at the table unless you are a muscle-bound type. Arnold could no doubt hold the thing up in one palm and read comfortably.

Not I. I heft it with two hands onto the kitchen table and randomly open to a promising title. So far, so wonderful.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

But never mind that. I came here to talk about a new book, not the many shadings of umbrageous. Throwing aside the custom of discussing only about books one has read, I will put forth for your consideration one that I wish I had written. Only somebody beat me to it. And this somebody is a liberal through and through, proving the point that if we go back far enough in history, those on different sides of the current Civil War may find points of agreement.

Team of RivalsTeam of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is one of those points. Sure, there are people on both sides who think Lincoln was the spawn of Satan, just as there are those of us who think he was so good that books like this new one by Doris Kearns Goodwin will continue to arrive for centuries to come, as new generations refract their own vision of the man.

In this case, the reviewer of Goodwin's book (Arthur Herman in National Review, December 31, 2005) sees the situation the same way I do, for he expresses ideas I've mulled over for a couple of years now, predating the re-election of George Bush in 2004.

Essentially, Bush is repeating Lincoln's experience. He is sneered at by the cognoscenti, just as Lincoln was. Both were/are considered "not equal to the hour." Both were reviled for being "third rate" and "illiterate partisans."

Has there ever been a cruder president than this cowboy we have in office now? Indeed, there has: Abraham Lincoln. But both men could induce loyalty in their divided staffs and could offer loyalty in turn. Both men operated on principle in their conduct of an unpopular war. And both men faced a rival party bent on surrender and appeasement.

I can't wait to read Goodwin's book. She probably won't like it that conservatives will take it as a foreshadowing of Bush's presidency. But if this obvious connection takes her by surprise, then she is intelligent without being wise. And if she knew we’d like it when she was writing it, then bully for her: an author flourishes best with a widespread audience.

Meanwhile, the parallels between Lincoln and Bush as politicians don’t cross over into their personal lives. Bush has none of Lincoln’s melancholia; he never lost a child and he married a woman with an even temperament. Those great gifts were withheld from Lincoln, but he transcended what the fates gave him, just as he has outlasted his assassin's bullet.

May Bush be as fortunate in the outcome of his war. And may he escape Lincoln’s end. People like John Wilkes Booth still hide in the footlights. Their words may have changed, but their hearts remain the same.

NOTE: This book is 994 pages long and the list price is $35.00. Amazon is offering it for $21.00 and teams it with David McCullough’s 1776 for $39.51. As of this writing, Kearns’ book is listed at # 5 in sales.

Lincoln springs eternal, does he not?


At 2:02 PM, Blogger Wally Ballou said...

Actually, I'm one of Lincoln's critics because I believe the choices he made to preserve the Union led to the demise of constitutional government; I also believe he was the most intelligent president of them all, by a long chalk (Nixon may be the second most intelligent, and I had big problems with his policies, too). Doesn't sound much like what the Bush bashers say.

At 9:54 PM, Blogger Dymphna said...

I think the choice was the lesser of two evils. A divided US would have continued to fester and there may well have been more outbreaks of war.

As to the demise of constitutional government, what is done in times of war is a special case. What is doing in constitutional government at the moment is the sheer size of our 10,000 pound malignancy called the Federal Government. Would someone, anyone, just start chopping off pieces of it before we are all squashed?

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Wally Ballou said...

"what is done in times of war is a special case"

I'm not talking about Lincoln's brutal, lawless and authoritarian tactics during the war, but about the structural changes brought about by the war that forged a "modern" nation-state out of the confederated states and made much of the Constitution meaningless.

Today's bloated leviathan is his legacy, just as much as it is FDR's.


Post a Comment

<< Home