History will little note, nor long remember, what we say here today.” I know. Some of you are, no doubt, tired of my frequent retreats into the words of Abraham Lincoln. But, given the reason many …
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History will little note, nor long remember, what we say here today.”
I know. Some of you are, no doubt, tired of my frequent retreats into the words of Abraham Lincoln.
But, given the reason many of us had Monday off; and given the momentous happenings in the U.S. Congress over the weekend, it seems fitting and proper that we should revisit some of the significant contributions our 16th President made to our political lexicon.
And I start with that first quote because, of all my favorite Lincoln qualities, I value his humility more than anything else. Imagine writing one of the five most important speeches in American history, and including in the text the admission that, basically, nobody was ever going to read your speech. Now, contrast that with the way today’s political class preens and primps for the cameras, as if the entire world is hanging on their every word.
And, of course, perhaps the apex of that tendency is the Presidency of Donald Trump. I joked four years ago that the worst job in Washington, without a doubt, was speechwriter for Pres. Trump — the man can’t keep himself on topic if his life depends on it. But, make no mistake, his term was not unique (a grotesque caricature, perhaps, but not unique). The way the press and official Washington fawned over Barack Obama, the way some ascribed to him messianic abilities, was of the exact same mentality.
And what is that mentality? The one that sets up politicians as people capable changing the world with a stroke of their pen or turn of their phrase. Any and all evidence to the contrary.
“Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Lincoln recognized that there was the possibility that he was on the wrong side of Divine will — he did not believe that to be the case, but, nonetheless, he knew it was possible.
When was the last time you heard a modern politician admit that they might be wrong? That they were picking the path that they believed to be right, but that there was a real possibility that the other view might be correct?
And don’t you believe that they would behave differently if they were willing to admit that?
But, again, is that really the fault of the politician? Or is that the fault of a media and a constituency that assigns to the politician the task of pushing back the ocean, and truly expecting them to get it done?
By the way, when I say “constituency,” I’m really not talking about the people like you and me, trying to earn a living and make life better for our children; I’m talking about the loud interest groups and deep-pocketed donors who pull their chains.
No, what I think we saw this weekend, and I what I hope brings us back around to thoughts of Lincoln, was the reductio ad absurdum of a political mentality that both presumes too much of the political class and which allows it to act in a vacuum of voter ignorance.
If we are, truly, “to bind up the nation’s wounds,” then we will all have to start to take some more responsibility for how we view both the role and the capabilities of those we put in high office, stop being as shallow in our evaluation of which lever to pull, and start to hold our officials — at every level from local school board to the President of the United States — accountable for their achievements, not just their rhetoric or their intentions.
“…that government of the People, by the People, and for the People, shall not perish from the earth.”
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