“We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices.”
Dwelling in this season’s political environment, the words sound eerily familiar. Barack Obama has won two presidential elections by large majorities, yet his plans and policies are constantly blocked by zealous Republican ideologues in a recalcitrant Congress. But the quote above, found in “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln” actually belongs to president-elect Abraham Lincoln in January 1861, writing to a Pennsylvania congressman.
Lincoln’s tenure in the White House marked a significant turning point in American history. Beginning in 1860, Republicans won 14 of the next 18 presidential elections. He stood strongly for human rights, national expansion and industrial development. Under his leadership we travelled the road to abolition, the nation built cross-continental railroads, and the union was preserved.
Today’s Republican Party is the antithesis of the party of Lincoln. Formerly a repository of sound conservative political thought, it has been injected with a Tea Party virus that has poisoned its host as well as the American political process. The party is now steered by radicals who abridge voting rights, subvert civil rights, suppress multi-cultural development and disrespect the institutions which our founders ordained and which Lincoln and his successors nurtured. While 19th century political fervor was frequently about geography and slavery, 21st century passions are strongly ideological. We don’t see confrontation between standing armies, but we do see frenzied insurrection against our traditional way of dealing with national problems.
What would Lincoln think about the machinations of today’s Republicans and their Tea Party core? How would his philosophy apply to our 21st century issues? We can find clues by browsing through some of his pronouncements. They contrast sharply with lines spouted by the modern Republican crop that get so much attention these days — when compromise is a dirty word and our country’s health is placed on a back burner.
For example, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves — in their separate, and individual capacities,” Lincoln said in 1854. Right-wing ideologues might call that communism! Or they may profanely insult a sitting U. S. Senator, as former vice-president Dick Cheney did in 2004, or as Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) vulgar personal attack did just last week. Lincoln’s quote could apply to pools of citizens having bargaining leverage in buying health insurance through exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act.
Another Lincoln quote could easily apply to Obamacare, now solidly entrenched in law, and the GOP’s ongoing threat to repeal or defund it. “The proclamation, as law, either is valid, or is not valid,” he said in 1863. “If it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid, it can not be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to life.” Well, the ACA’s validity was affirmed by our conservative Supreme Court.
Today’s proliferation of assault weapons that has senselessly blown away thousands of innocent lives begs recalling Lincoln’s admonition in an 1864 letter to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton: “We should avoid planting and cultivating too many thorns in the bosom of society.”
Last month freshman Tea Party Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, led a rally which saw several activists march to the White House waiving Confederate flags. With the added incendiary exhortation by a participant that the president “get up off his knees and … figuratively come out with his hands up,” the racial implications are obvious. In 1838, Lincoln said, “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.”
The Tea Party and its Republican facilitators represent a political cancer which threatens to subvert all that our forbearers built since the nation’s founding and it challenges the idea that this great experiment in self-government can continue to endure. That same year a young Lincoln asked, “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Tea Party darling Cruz has been making hay lately by condemning President Obama and some less rambunctious Senate Republicans. Perhaps he’ll now add Abraham Lincoln to his list.
— Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities. The views expressed in this column are his alone and do not represent those of Regal.