Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lincoln's 200th Anniversary Year

Nearly lost but not forgotten in the changing of the presidential guard is the long anticipated (especially in the three states that claim him) 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth.

This Bicentennial is receiving even greater attention on the national stage in part because our president-elect shares our reverence for Mr. Lincoln, and intends to draw upon Lincoln's willingness to listen - and his genius - when crafting his own strategies for reversing our nation's downward spiral.

I have heard it said repeatedly of late , by scholars and talking heads, that President-elect Obama faces a challenge unlike any seen by an incoming president since the national challenges faced by both Lincoln and FDR. Thankfully our next president is a student of history and plans to study the policies of our two greatest presidents... men who were not simply presidents, but national leaders.

What would Lincoln do? Who is our Lincoln? If he were dropped into the White House today, to face the perils that Obama will tackle, how would he go about it? Perhaps I can finally get to the point of this blog... now that the Evil Empire is on the verge of collapse.

Are we still a Republic? We swear allegiance to the flag 'and to the Republic for which it stands.' Does that Republic - and democracy - still stand? Or have we now morphed into a giant, greedy corpocracy hell-bent on looting our public coffers to further the bloated weath of the powerful elite?

Most who ask this question - the 'corporacy' question - are immediately labeled 'liberals.' I consider myself an Independent and a moralist. I manage to disagree equally with many liberals and conservatives alike, and then again agree with just as many others, depending on the issue. This is not a question of ideology. This is a question of democracy. It is time to hold a mirror to our national face and determine who and what we are today.

Recently Mr. Obama's transition team set up a website that accepted questions from the general populace. The top question - above even the dubious bailout - indicated that the American people want to know if there would be any sort of reckoning for the outgoing administration, and if a special prosecutor would be assigned to the task of determining whether war crimes were committed.

I agree with President-elect Obama that we need to look ahead and not behind. Who we are today was forged over many modern administrations. However the last eight years have seen changes in this country and its national face - the ideology that it shows the world - which mark a direct change of course from who we have always believed we are. America does not torture... yet our soon to be ex-president freely admits now that he allowed torture, in spite of the fact that it violated the Geneva Conventions.

We cannot be the nation we claim to be - a beacon of hope and democracy for the world - and not address what our government has become in the last eight years. Our works have defined us. Any behavior that is 'un-American' must be abolished, and any crimes that have been committed must be punished -- for the sake of our 'national soul,' our relationship with other nations and all future generations.

There is a very real danger that any crimes left un-punished will emerge again to haunt the next generation. This has already happened. By pardoning Nixon and closing any further investigation into Watergate, President Ford opened the door for Rumsfeld, Cheney and many others from the Nixon Administration who went on to form the backbone of the Bush Administration. They learned early that there were no real consequences for those in the highest levels of office. Basically if you could find a way to bend the government to do what you wanted, you could be king. No one would stop you, and no one would punish you.

When we as a nation refused to really pursue the Iran-Contra corruption, we left the door open once again. We are adverse to holding our highest level officials accountable to their oaths of office... or perhaps I should say that the people we elect to represent us are adverse to making waves among their peers (they appear to feel that they have more in common with others in government than with the great unwashed masses.)

President-elect Obama plans to involve us in the national dialog. This should be refreshing after eight years of being locked out of the people's government. I'm quite sure it is what our forefather's intended, and what Lincoln recalled in the Gettysburg Address when he expressed his hope that the 'government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.'

But along with moving forward, we need to finally do something about where we have been the last eight years - not in any spirit of malice or revenge, but simply to guarantee that the door is firmly shut this time, and this reckless law-breaking behavior cannot happen here again.

Does that nation 'of the people, by the people and for the people' still exist?

I believe that it does. We managed - against rather impressive technological odds - to elect a man to office that we felt would represent us -- not the establishment. We shocked the world, and perhaps now they finally realize who we - the actual American citizens - really are, and can differentiate us from our current government. We've been held hostage the last eight years. We are not our government.

We made it clear, when asked, that we expect the Bush Administration to be investigated. This must be done. It doesn't have to take center stage. But it must be done.

There is an excellent essay in The Nation about 'Our Lincoln.' It starts out with a strong and matter-of-fact treatment of Lincoln in his time: his attitudes towards slavery and race, and his dilemma when forced to choose between his heart, and the specific wording of the Constitution.

Abraham Lincoln has always provided a lens through which Americans examine themselves. He has been described as a consummate moralist and a shrewd political operator, a lifelong foe of slavery and an inveterate racist. Politicians from conservatives to communists, civil rights activists to segregationists, have claimed him as their own. With the approach of the bicentennial of his birth, the past few years have seen an outpouring of books on Lincoln of every size, shape and description. His psychology, marriage, law career, political practices, racial attitudes and every one of his major speeches have been subjected to minute examination.

Lincoln is important to us not because of his melancholia or how he chose his cabinet but because of his role in the vast human drama of emancipation and what his life tells us about slavery's enduring legacy. The Nation, founded by veterans of the struggle for abolition three months after Lincoln's death, dedicated itself to completing the unfinished task of making the former slaves equal citizens. It soon abandoned this goal, but in the twentieth century again took up the banner of racial justice. Who is our Lincoln?
The article speaks to Lincoln's approach to the subject of slavery, and shows how his views came to change and grow over time. Lincoln's great strengths included the ability to think deeply, listen to many opinions... and his willingness to change. May President-elect Obama carry on this legacy - this willingness to think deeply and respond to the reality of the times - and thus ensure the continuation of democracy in this nation.

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