David Horowitz, ’60’s era radical, now conservative, & author of one of the books I’m currently reading, Indoctrination U., wrote an excellent take on how conservatives ought to view the election of Obama.
Today America welcomes Barack Obama as the first black president in its 232-year history. How should conservatives think about these events?
First we have to recognize and then understand that whatever happens in the Obama presidency, this Inauguration Day is a watershed moment in the history of America and a remarkable event in the history of nations, and thus a cause for all of us who love this country, conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican, to celebrate.
Second, in order to do this as conservatives — as conservatives who have been through the culture wars — we need to get past the mixed feelings we will inevitably have as the nation marks its progress in moving away from the racial divisions and divisiveness of the past. These feelings come not from resistance to the change, but from the knowledge that this celebration should have taken place decades ago and that its delay was not least because our opponents saw political advantage in playing the race card against us and making us its slandered targets.
If we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday at a time of presidential inaugurals, this is thanks to Ronald Reagan who created the holiday, and not to the Democratic Congress of the Carter years, which rejected it. If Americans now have accepted an African American to lead their country in war and peace that is in part because an hysterically maligned Republican made two African Americans his secretaries of state. And if, after the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, race has continued to be a divisive factor in our politics over the last 40 years that is because the generation of Sharpton and Jackson and their liberal supporters have made it so. . . .
Only time will tell how successfully Obama manages to unite the nation in the face of the crises and enemies which confront it. . . . But today celebrating their new president are millions of Americans who never would have dreamed of celebrating their president before. Millions of Americans — visible in all their racial and ethnic variety at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday — have begun to feel a patriotic stirring because they see in this First Family a reflection of themselves.
The change is still symbolic and may not last. A lot depends on what President Obama will do, which is not a small question given how little is still known about this man and how little tested he remains. Some of this patriotism may be of the sunshine variety — in for a day or a season, when the costs are not great. Or more cynically: in to show that their hatred for America is really just another form of political “dissent.” Yet whatever the nature of these changes they cannot for now be discounted. Consider: When President Obama commits this nation to war against the Islamic terrorists, as he already has in Afghanistan, he will take millions of previously alienated and disaffected Americans with him, and they will support our troops in a way that most of his party has refused to support them until now. When another liberal, Bill Clinton went to war from the air, there was no anti-war movement in the streets or in his party’s ranks to oppose him. That is an encouraging fact for us in the dangerous world we confront.
If it seems unfair that Barack Obama should be the source of a new patriotism — albeit of untested mettle — life is unfair. If the Obama future is uncertain and fraught with unseen perils, conservatives can deal with those perils as they come. What matters today is that many Americans have begun to join their country’s cause, and conservatives should celebrate that fact and encourage it.
Incidentally, and as an aside, becoming a conservative is what happens to all “good” radicals.
(h/t Scott L.)
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We’re currently about half-way done with a collection of Lincoln’s speeches and letters. His most notable speeches–to the Young Men’s Lyceum, 1st Inaugural, Gettysburg Address, 2nd Inaugural–we’ve read a number of times. They are awesome. His 2nd Inaugural Address may be the greatest speech in American history.
We’ve also listened to and read a number of Barack Obama’s speeches. He is, as MJ says, a powerful speaker. However, we agree with a point made by Peggy Noonan a few weeks ago (WSJ subscription required). Barack Obama is an intelligent, articulate speaker. His ability to work a crowd and speak extemporaneously is awesome. We’ve done a bit of the latter and appreciate his ability all the more for it.
But we distinguish between the power of a speaker and the lasting effect and power of their words. Obama’s speeches and rhetoric lose their power when read from the page. They are insipid and narcissistic. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” The culmination of human history.
With all due respect to our friend MJ–and really, we can’t blame him, because he’s only parroting the line of the liberal intelligentsia–suggesting that Obama rivals Lincoln, belies either a complete ignorance of Lincoln’s speeches or a blind obsession for Barack Obama. His last speech was good, and it may save his candidacy from its association with Wright, but we’re familiar with Lincoln’s speeches and writing, and Barack Obama is no Abraham Lincoln.
We cite, but two examples from his recent speech:
In his speech, Barack Obama used his grandmother to communicate the depth of his association with Wright, “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother.” Why not? He goes on:
[she was] a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
Did he really need to out his grandmother as a racist? Does he really believe or expect any of the rest of us to believe that his grandmother’s private utterances are on par with the repeated and public racist statements of his chosen pastor?
This, folks, is moral equivalence. And it doesn’t explain or excuse Wright’s statements. Wright didn’t privately mention his racist prejudices to Obama, he peddled them in church week after week and then packaged them in a series of DVDs and sold them to the general public.
In his speech, Obama said that he didn’t think that racism was endemic in America (read: white people) but then, in a New York Times follow up to the comment about his grandmother, he said that she was “a typical white person.” (emphasis added)
Nice racial stereotype, Barack.
This contradicts his speech-professed belief that white America is not racist.
What will it be, Barack? Are we all racists like Wright and your poor grandmother?
The second point also draws on Obama’s poor comparison between his grandmother and Rev. Wright. Obama’s does not address and again, gives tacit approval to, the racial double standard that exists in this country. It is a double standard characterized by the soft bigotry of low expectations:
For the men and women of Reverend Wrightâ€™s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politicianâ€™s own failings.
He’s right about one thing: Democratic politicians have always exploited black anger. And the liberal elites in this country permit a racial double standard that does African Americans no favors.
It wasn’t just Wright and his generation applauding his conspiratorial racism, young African Americans cheered when he talked about the government’s secret plans to use AIDS and crack cocaine to kill blacks. He is inculcating his racism and bigotry in yet another generation.
If we want to end the problem of racism in this country, we cannot continue to allow one standard for whites and another for blacks. We are a member of the NAACP. We don’t agree with all of their policies, but we appreciate their historical fight for Civil Rights. If Barack Obama wanted to be a unifier, he would encourage, nay, demand, that the racial double standard end.
The biggest single problem disadvantaging not only blacks, but every ethnicity in this country, is the breakdown of the family. As Peggy Noonan mentioned in the same column:
That’s the great divide in modern America, whether or not you had a functioning family.
The division is not between white and black or haves and have-nots, it’s between those with functioning families and those without. There are exceptions, but a dysfunctional family is very difficult to overcome. Every problem Obama mentioned in the latter part of his speech can be combatted and overcome by fortifying the American family.
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We celebrate and honor them because they were the leaders of this country when America faced its greatest existential threats: Revolutionary America the the Civil War.
Both of them were great wartime leaders. Washington led when no one else could or would. Against overwhelming odds, he won a war against a far superior force. When it was over, rather than seizing power or leading his men in a coup, he peacefully resigned his post. Later, when America needed his influence to construct the Constitution, he was there. He was our first President and set many important precedents still followed today. He could have made himself President for life, but he declined to run again after his 2nd term.
Abraham Lincoln was President during the Civil War. In fact, it was his election to the Presidency that prompted the southern states to make their break. Before and after pictures of President Lincoln (before and after the Civil War) show the great strain this conflict put on him.
Lincoln was not popular during the Civil War. After the war and even after his death, he was not popular anywhere in the South. But it was his duty to match the ideals of the Declaration of Independence with the reality of mid 19th Century America. He called the Civil War an American transformation, a second birth, an opportunity to realize the promise of 1776.
The Civil War cost America more in terms of blood and treasure and national trauma than all other American conflicts combined. We’re still dealing with the aftermath.
Neither of these men were perfect–either in their personal lives or in their leadership of this country. But their missteps and mistakes pale in comparison to their accomplishments. We can thank them, more than any other two individuals, for the liberties, freedoms, and prosperity we enjoy today.
Happy Presidents’ Day.
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In a post last week, we mentioned our love of dailylit.com and admiration for Abraham Lincoln. We wrote this in the context of a letter we’d read that day, written by Lincoln, to a friend, regarding his recent marriage proposal. The response from friends who’ve read this in email (we forwarded it to some) and on the blog has been overwhelmingly positive.
Though not all letters are as funny and interesting and revealing as that letter, they often contain nuggets of information that seem to have present application. Or, at least they do to us. Bear in mind that we are a historian in training.
From an Address before the Washingtonian Temperance Society. Springfield, Illinois. February 22, 1842
When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim “that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high-road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.
On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and though you throw it with more than herculean force and precision, you shall be no more able to pierce him than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw. Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him, even to his own best interests….
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A week ago we subscribed to two books or collections over at dailylit.com: Pride and Prejudice and the Speeches and Letters of Abraham Lincoln. Among the latter was this gem of a letter Lincoln sent to his friend, Mrs. Browning regarding his recent attempt at marriage. We guarantee you’ll laugh out loud or get your money back (most books at DailyLit are, like this blog, free).
Most people know Lincoln as America’s great liberator–one of the two best Presidents in American history. Letters like these humanize Lincoln, they help us realize that he was a normal man with normal concerns and worries and, as this letter shows, an incredible sense of humor (self deprecating) and humility. Lincoln is one of our heroes.
HUMOROUS ACCOUNT OF HIS EXPERIENCES WITH A LADY HE WAS REQUESTED TO MARRY
A Letter to Mrs. O.H. Browning. Springfield, Illinois. April 1, 1838
Dear Madam, Without apologising for being egotistical, I shall make the history of so much of my life as has elapsed since I saw you the subject of this letter. And, by the way, I now discover that in order to give a full and intelligible account of the things I have done and suffered since I saw you, I shall necessarily have to relate some that happened before.
It was, then, in the autumn of 1836 that a married lady of my acquaintance, and who was a great friend of mine, being about to pay a visit to her father and other relatives residing in Kentucky, proposed to me that on her return she would bring a sister of hers with her on condition that I would engage to become her brother-in-law with all convenient dispatch. I, of course, accepted the proposal, for you know I could not have done otherwise had I really been averse to it; but privately, between you and me, I was most confoundedly well pleased with the project. I had seen the said sister some three years before, thought her intelligent and agreeable, and saw no good objection to plodding life through hand-in-hand with her. Time passed on, the lady took her journey, and in due time returned, sister in company, sure enough.
This astonished me a little, for it appeared to me that her coming so readily showed that she was a trifle too willing, but on reflection it occurred to me that she might have been prevailed on by her married sister to come, without anything concerning me having been mentioned to her, and so I concluded that if no other objection presented itself, I would consent to waive this. All this occurred to me on hearing of her arrival in the neighbourhood–for, be it remembered, I had not yet seen her, except about three years previous, as above mentioned. In a few days we had an interview, and, although I had seen her before, she did not look as my imagination had pictured her. I knew she was over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff.
I knew she was called an “old maid,” and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appellation, but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features,–for her skin was too full of fat to permit of its contracting into wrinkles–but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached her present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years; and, in short, I was not at all pleased with her.
But what could I do? I had told her sister that I would take her for better or for worse, and I made a point of honour and conscience in all things to stick to my word, especially if others had been induced to act on it, which in this case I had no doubt they had, for I was now fairly convinced that no other man on earth would have her, and hence the conclusion that they were bent on holding me to my bargain. “Well,” thought I, “I have said it, and, be the consequences what they may, it shall not be my fault if I fail to do it.” At once I determined to consider her my wife, and this done, all my powers of discovery were put to work in search of perfections in her which might be fairly set off against her defects. I tried to imagine her handsome, which, but for her unfortunate corpulency, was actually true. Exclusive of this, no woman that I have ever seen has a finer face.
I also tried to convince myself that the mind was much more to be valued than the person, and in this she was not inferior, as I could discover, to any with whom I had been acquainted.
Shortly after this, without attempting to come to any positive understanding with her, I set out for Vandalia, when and where you first saw me. During my stay there I had letters from her which did not change my opinion of either her intellect or intention, but, on the contrary, confirmed it in both.
All this while, although I was fixed “firm as the surge-repelling rock” in my resolution, I found I was continually repenting the rashness which had led me to make it. Through life I have been in no bondage, either real or imaginary, from the thraldom of which I so much desired to be free. After my return home I saw nothing to change my opinion of her in any particular. She was the same, and so was I. I now spent my time in planning how I might get along in life after my contemplated change of circumstances should have taken place, and how I might procrastinate the evil day for a time, which I really dreaded as much, perhaps more, than an Irishman does the halter.
After all my sufferings upon this deeply interesting subject, here I am, wholly, unexpectedly, completely out of the “scrape,” and I now want to know if you can guess how I got out of it–out, clear, in every sense of the term–no violation of word, honour, or conscience. I don’t believe you can guess, and so I might as well tell you at once. As the lawyer says, it was done in the manner following, to wit: After I had delayed the matter as long as I thought I could in honour do (which, by the way, had brought me round into the last fall), I concluded I might as well bring it to a consummation without further delay, and so I mustered my resolution and made the proposal to her direct; but, shocking to relate, she answered, No. At first I supposed she did it through an affectation of modesty, which I thought but ill became her under the peculiar circumstances of the case, but on my renewal of the charge I found she repelled it with greater firmness than before.
I tried it again and again, but with the same success, or rather with the same want of success.
I finally was forced to give it up, at which I very unexpectedly found myself mortified almost beyond endurance. I was mortified, it seemed to me, in a hundred different ways. My vanity was deeply wounded by the reflection that I had so long been too stupid to discover her intentions, and at the same time never doubting that I understood them perfectly; and also that she, whom I had taught myself to believe nobody else would have, had actually rejected me with all my fancied greatness. And, to cap the whole, I then for the first time began to suspect that I was really a little in love with her. But let it all go! I’ll try and outlive it. Others have been made fools of by the girls, but this can never in truth be said of me. I most emphatically, in this instance, made a fool of myself. I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason–I can never be satisfied with any one who would be blockhead enough to have me.
When you receive this, write me a long yarn about something to amuse me. Give my respects to Mr. Browning.
The Stuff of Democratic Life
By Allen Guelzo
On Nov. 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the dedication remarks at the opening ceremonies of a cemetery for soldiers of the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pa. This “Gettysburg Address” — a gem-like model of conciseness, passion and political eloquence — quickly became a fixed feature of McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers and triple-decker Fourth of July orations, even the soundtrack of the first “talking” motion picture in 1922. It was read once again to dedicate a block of burnt earth in Manhattan during the solemn first anniversary of 9/11 at Ground Zero.
Lincoln wrote a great many other memorable speeches, from his two inaugural addresses to the proclamation that, a week after the Gettysburg Address, made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Why was the Gettysburg speech so much more important? The answer would be easier if his words had not become so worn with familiarity. Time has done more than just heal the wounds of the Civil War. It has grown moss over prose that captured, in a shorter compass and with greater power than any others, the three fundamental challenges of the American experiment.
In 1863, the United States was the only significant democracy in the world. The French Revolution had drowned itself in blood; the democratic uprisings of the 1820s and 1840s had been easily and successfully repressed by kings and emperors; and everywhere, it was power and hierarchy rather than liberty and equality which seemed the best guarantee of peace and plenty. Americans remained the one people who defined themselves by a natural proposition, that all men are created equal, so that no one was born with a superior entitlement to command.
But this republic of equal citizens had two basic weaknesses. The first was its tolerance of slavery, which drew the line of race across the line of equality. The second weakness was the question of authority in a democracy. In a society where every citizen’s opinion carried equal weight, decisions would have to be made by majority rule. But a citizen whose opinion carries such weight might find it difficult to submit to the countervailing vote of a majority which thinks differently, and the result is likely to be a simple truculent refusal to go along. Refusals make for resistance, and resistance makes for civil war. Is there, Lincoln asked in 1861, some deep flaw in popular government, some weird centripetal force, which inevitably condemns popular government to whirl itself into pieces “and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth”?
To that question, every king and autocrat in 1861 — and every fuehrer, duce and president-for-life since — has answered, smirkingly, yes. And the American Civil War looked like the chief evidence that this was so. Which is why, as Lincoln looked out across the thousands who had gathered on that November day, it seemed to him that what he was viewing was more than just another noteworthy battlefield. It had fallen to him to argue that the Civil War signaled not a failure, but a test, to determine once and for all whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.
We pass this test, Lincoln said, not by dedicating cemeteries, but by dedicating ourselves. That dedication lies first in seeing that equality is an imposition of self-restraint. It means refusing to lay upon the backs of others the burdens we do not wish laid on our own. Slavery was an outrage on the notion of equality, not just because it treated members of a different race as unequal, but because it allowed one race to exploit another without any restraint at all. “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master,” Lincoln explained in 1858. “This expresses my idea of democracy.” Popular government is not about what we want, or about our demands for ourselves, but what we should not want and not demand of others.
Dedication lies, second, in the enforcement of self-restraint. Democracy is a discipline. One cannot opt out on the plea of liberty whenever the political score goes against us. The Southern secessionists imagined that they were protecting their liberty by seceding from the Union, but they were in fact negating it. Secession, Lincoln argued, was the essence of anarchy, not liberty, since the only liberty the secessionists had in mind was the liberty to do what they pleased, without restraint, and to people whom they deemed unequal. Against that, a democracy must take up the sword, or cease to be a democracy at all.
But dedication also comes, third, in understanding how to sustain a fervor for democracy’s defense. It was the complaint of Francis Fukuyama that the triumph of democracy had only managed to produce a “last man” who had no other reason for being free than the satisfaction of his own interests. It was Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg which invested the triumph of democracy with a transcendent meaning, as a good based on natural law rather than on personal comfort. It was because these honored dead were witnesses to that kind of democracy that we could take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.
The turn of the 9/11 ceremonies to the Gettysburg Address was instinctively correct. But Lincoln’s words are more than just a tonic for crises. Self-restraint, self-enforcement and the recollection that democracy has a transcendent core arching far above our poor power to add or detract — these are the stuff of democratic life, and the Gettysburg Address is the reminder of Lincoln’s prescription for government of the people, by the people and for the people. If we forget it, it may be because we have forgotten all the other things that democracy demands.
Mr. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College and the author, inter alia, of “Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America” (Simon and Schuster, 2004).