Tuesday, April 14, 2015

150 years since Lincoln became immortal; what would he be today?

Anybody who hangs around political people gets used to certain catchphrases and concepts being tossed out when one wants to score political points.

One such idea I have often heard expressed is the notion that, if he were alive now, Abraham Lincoln certainly would not be a Republican. I can’t keep track of the number of Democrats who have suggested that a modern-day Lincoln would have converted to their political party.

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN skeptical of the suggestion. Not so much because I think Republican partisans of the modern-day are somehow correct in their way of thinking about the biggest-name politico Illinois has ever produced.

It’s just that I think Lincoln himself might have become so repulsed by some of the actions committed GOP of the 21st Century that if he had left, it would be to create yet another political party.

Perhaps someone like H. Ross Perot, goofy ears and all, is the modern-day equivalent of Lincoln. Not that I’m implying the Texas billionaire who actually gained a significant number of votes when he tried running for president in 1992 has much in common with Lincoln.

But perhaps I just think Lincoln would be ornery and independent enough to find all of the current political structure somewhat repugnant!

LET’S NOT FORGET that during his lifetime, Lincoln was affiliated primarily with the Whig Party. When the potential for slavery to spread into the territories we now think of as the Plains states split the Whigs into factions, Lincoln wound up eventually going with the one that opposed slavery.

Which wound up becoming the Republican Party, and Lincoln became their first presidential candidate who managed to win the election.

I do believe that the extent to which the old Southern agenda of “state’s rights” being used to justify repulsive racial policies and other means of imposing on the civil rights of certain people who don’t fit their image of who belongs in this country would have bothered Lincoln.

But I wonder if Lincoln would see the modern-day Democratic Party as being a bit dysfunctional in its own right – so many factions that have trouble uniting that the Republicans in their ideological rigidity are still capable of winning elections.

OF COURSE, THE reason we pay so much attention to Lincoln’s memory is because of the events of 150 years ago Tuesday. Just days after the first military surrender that essentially ended the Civil War (even though fighting continued in spurts for two more months), Lincoln was shot. Under circumstances that ensure his critics in life were permanently disgraced.

Lincoln died early the next morning, laid out in a bed so small that he had to be put on it on an angle. And yes, generations of Chicago schoolchildren have gone on field trips to the Chicago Historical Society museum to see that bed (along with the charred crackers that survived the Chicago Fire of 1871).

In fact, a part of me would be inclined to go to the museum Tuesday to see the bed, except that it is on loan for the year to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. That’s a bit much of a drive for me to make on a whim.

So perhaps we should spend part of the day pondering Lincoln’s memory, which gets distorted in so many ways by people eager to simplify his story – particularly those too eager to engage in Confederate historic revisionism.

LINCOLN MAY NOT have been the pure abolitionist who was willing to do away with slavery of black people for the common good. Although his critics of the day were certainly willing to see him that way to benefit their own hostile thoughts.

Just last week, the Washington Post published a commentary suggesting that, “Today’s GOP is the party of Jefferson Davis, not of Lincoln.”

That might be a bit simplistic a thought, but there is a certain amount of truth to it – in that I wonder if modern-day Republicans find a bit of shame in the fact that their political party historically was known as the “Party of Lincoln.”

Wishing instead they could regard Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon of the “Southern Strategy” and Ronald Reagan (who throughout the years chased off those Republicans who were motivated by Lincoln’s ideals) as their true founders.


No comments: