The Better Angels of Our Nature by Venessa Bowers

Much has been said and written about President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. As pundits, politicos, journalists, bloggers, and families take apart each turn of phrase to determine the content of the President’s character, I too would like to weigh in on something he said. President Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln in speaking about his failings as a President and as a human: “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere to go.”  I thought this choice of quote was interesting for several reasons: there are many other quotes by Lincoln, a Republican president who did more for civil rights in the 19th century than any politician has before or since; why quote a Republican president? Surely there must be profound Democratic presidents to quote; what did the quote usage mean to the President; it is a smack to all of us who have criticized this President as not “getting it” about the economy, foreign policy, social issues, etc.; and finally, in what ways does the choice of this quote along with the admission and acknowledgement of his own failings illuminate the character of this sitting President?

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To be honest, the first three questions I raised are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter much why one quote was chosen over a variety of others; it doesn’t much matter if it was a quote by a Democrat or a Republican; and we, certainly I, cannot know what that quote means to the President. However, I do believe that what is quoted often leads us to interpret what is said before and after the quote with greater agility, especially if it is particularly profound. To demonstrate this point, I’ve selected a variety of Lincoln’s other quotes that seem to be as relevant today as they were when Lincoln originally spoke them. Perhaps these will provide a different lens with which to view politics in this overly-saturated social media age – where misinformation is key.

 

When I think about the things said by the Republicans about this President and what and how they plan to “undo” the changes he has implemented in government, I am struck by Lincoln’s quote: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Perhaps the reason that the Republican side of the political landscape sounds foolish is because it is not remembered what was said previously on certain issues like abortion, women’s health, health care in general, economics, and the host of other issues about which Republicans speak. It seems foolish because while one may not remember what one said or how one voted, one should be savvy enough to know every statement was on tape and could be reviewed by the Republicans prior to making foolish statements just as easily as it is reviewed by Democrats to point out foolish statements. Republicans seem foolish because they simply cannot stop talking about foolish things in public and talking about foolish things in foolish ways. For example: how does Romney intelligently insult this country’s biggest alley when visiting the London Olympic Games this year? One might assume that if he can’t fact check exactly who has allegiance to this country, than perhaps he has an intern somewhere who could. What is ‘legitimate’ rape? Seriously? Something to think about, isn’t it?

Relative to foreign and domestic policy, Lincoln said “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Are we or are we not destroying ourselves right now? We cannot let people live in peace in this country or in others. Republicans cannot make policy decisions based on the best interest of the people (majority) so we talk about things that are held important by a minority of people (Tea Party conservatives) and try to legislate that while at the same time, the Democrats have struggled to find a back bone in Congress to really step into the Republicans about the grid lock in Washington. Why are poor white and lower middle class people buying into the anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-POOR, anti-middle class positions of the conservative right? It seems counterintuitive to scream and yell about taxes and the like when the people that are being sided with (Republicans) intend to tax the hell out of the middle class until it becomes the new threshold for poverty. But, perhaps being poor and white (male) will always be better than being poor and African American or poor and Hispanic or poor and female. So who cares, right?

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Lincoln also said that “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” If labor is in fact the thing that deserves much higher consideration than capital, why are the Republicans talking about “borrowing money from your parents” to open your own business? Who is going to provide the goods and services of these literal “mom and pop” businesses? Especially when the funding for education keeps getting cut and there are places in this country where able-bodied Americans cannot work because they have not been educated to meet the needs of an ever changing labor market. Huh. That’s interesting isn’t it?

 

We hear a lot of people shout about the national deficit but we really don’t hear many of those shouters putting accountability where it belongs – on two wars that were unfunded and unbudgeted by the previous administration. To this behavior, Lincoln cautions us “Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose – and you allow him to make war at pleasure.” In terms of Iraq, it was George W. Bush who made war at his pleasure while nearly bankrupting our country and sacrificing the lives of men and women sworn to protect the country. He didn’t think about it, he just did it. He did not think about the end-game, how long it would take us to leave that county. He didn’t think about the cost of waging two wars at the same time. He didn’t kill Osama Bin Laden as he promised, and yet, yet President Obama is blamed for the deficit. It’s this kind of revisionist history that has people thinking that Iraq waged war by attacking the United States on September 11, 2001 when this attack had nothing to do with that county. It is this type of “blow them to hell” thinking that allowed returning veterans to be housed in horrific and dishonorable conditions at Walter Reed Hospital. It is this “patriotic” thinking that allows veterans of foreign wars to be the largest number of homeless people in this country. The American position seems to tell soldiers “We want you to fight for us, but when you return you’re on your own – so man up, buddy.” In my opinion, a man who has never served in war knows nothing of the cost of war: financially, emotionally, and physically. Let’s face it – men and women serving this country right now do not have a daddy who can get them a desk job in the National Guard instead of being deployed to a combat zone. No, they do up to six tours of duty and come home to no assistance. They walk wounded while we argue about what the Kardasians are doing. Nicely played, folks.

 

On the concept of freedom, Lincoln reminds us that “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” If any group decides that there are deserving poor, wages socio-political war on women, gays and lesbians, immigrants, the aged, the disabled, veterans, and children, then how in Heaven’s name can we expect these same people to ever protect anything we believe in that isn’t on that list of “hated it” things? I for one am not willing to walk backward into 1950s America where women are measured by their ability and forced desire to keep house and have perfect children (male of course). It took way too many women to get us out of the kitchen for me to sit idly by until I am sent back there by a man. Maybe I like to cook or maybe I like to get take-out, bottom line: MY CHOICE.

I had to include this next quote because I am an animal lover and believe that the true measure of a person is how they treat their pets. Lincoln said “I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it. Romney’s dog is NOT better for his religion which he claims is compassionate and grounded.  Romney left his dog in a crate for 12 hours on the roof of his car when he was traveling. One could argue that this is tragic since the animal welfare laws in this country pre-dated the child welfare laws. Look it up, pal.

The Ryan Plan, the economic redistribution plan put forth by Paul Ryan prior to him being named to the Republican ticket as the Vice-President, is the most outrageous proposal I’ve heard in my life relative to taking care of social issues and balancing the budget. You cannot simply cut education programs. You cannot simply cut food assistance programs for children. You cannot allow inflated health care costs to hit women harder than they hit the other gender in this country. Frankly, Mr. Ryan, being a woman is not a pre-existing condition. To these issues Lincoln informs us, “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.” Is this why health care reform is such an issues for the Republicans? Well sure, if the insurance companies do not make huge profits, who can donate to the campaigns of the Republicans who gave them the profits and tax loopholes on a silver platter?  

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With all of these issues and the scores of others that President Obama has faced and is facing in his presidency, one can rightly see how he could relate to the quote by Lincoln of falling to his knees because there was nowhere else to go. It is this quote that gives us a glimpse of the character of the man, Obama, The content of his conviction, the strength of his stance, the might of his mind. I can promise you that I do not agree with everything President Obama has done over the last four years. I can also promise you that the potential for Romney/Ryan to land the office terrifies me. It terrifies me so much that I look to Lincoln once again for guidance, “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” To this there is not argument. This is a government by the people, for the people. Therefore, the people need to stand up and vote. They need to encourage their friends and families to vote. I really don’t much care how anyone votes except to say, do the research and cast an informed ballot. If you care about social issues, if you are a woman, a person of color, challenged by mental and psychical issues, poor, working-class, middle-class, from an immigrant family, have a medical condition that will be denied coverage if health care is overturned, I beg you to vote for Barack Obama. He’s not perfect, but he is a right sight better than the alternative. You don’t have to like him as a person, you need to vote for him if you want freedom from oppression. It doesn’t make sense to vote for Romney unless you are a masochist and like betting against yourself – in other words, the house ALWAYS wins so if you like sucker bets than vote from Romney and hope he grows a conscience. Good luck with that because that would require evolution on his part and let’s face it evolution is a hoax.

 

Lincoln reminds us as we contemplate our politics and positions that “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 

 

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