Heart Happy (cathy_edgett) wrote,
Heart Happy

Jon Carroll's column today -

Here is Jon Carroll's column.  If you haven't read Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals," I highly recommend it.

Jon Carroll -

    It is, I understand, not fair to compare any president to Abraham Lincoln. He was smart, cagey, largehearted, intuitive; an amazing autodidact, an inspiring leader. The two Roosevelts come close, but they were both born into privilege. Washington, Jefferson and Madison were great men, but I'm not sure they were great presidents. And Harry Truman is sui generis, almost a separate category.

    But it's worth looking at what Lincoln did as a president. I've been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's remarkable "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," and I think every serious candidate should read it, despite its too-long-for-a-17-hour-flight length. I think it's too late for the current incumbent to take any lessons from Lincoln, but maybe the next person could learn, and the one after that. Obviously, times are different and blah blah, but they're not as different as we make them out to be. We are not that special, for all our fine toys.

    Lincoln traveled with at most one bodyguard, except when he was on actual battlefields, when he was surrounded by soldiers. I'm talking here about battlefields where the battle was still going on, albeit not right near the president. I'm trying to think of the last president who went to an active battlefield. Flying into a huge Army base in the Iraq desert doesn't count.

    Lincoln walked among the soldiers and answered their questions. No newspaper reporters went with him. He also visited the sick. He rode horses along ridgelines while talking tactics with his generals. At the beginning of the war, he realized he knew nothing about military matters, so he spent 18 months educating himself. Grant thought he was informed and able -- and Grant should know. (Grant: terrible president, but a great general.)

    Of course, it's so different today. These are dangerous times, and the president could be a target of extremists. On the other hand, remember how Lincoln died. Lincoln held frequent Sunday gatherings at the White House, and y'all come. Anyone could walk through the door. There were many Confederate sympathizers in Washington, and there were no metal detectors, but Lincoln stood there for hours shaking every hand he could find. The wonder is not that he was assassinated; the wonder is that it took so long.

    Why did he take the risk? Because he thought it was important to get a sense of what the people were thinking. He also thought it was important for the people to get a sense of what he was thinking. He believed in the words of the Declaration of Independence, and he took it as the text for his most famous speech. If the government was indeed of, by and for the people, then the people had a right to talk to its leaders and visit its public buildings.

    He was not protected by his advisers; he was not protected from the news. Often he walked down to the telegraph office to get the war details as soon as they came in. When he thought something was important to talk about, he wrote his own speech. There were no talking points for Lincoln, just points.

    For part of the Civil War, the battle was so close to Washington that people on the streets could hear the guns. When someone talks about how necessary it is to trash the Constitution and lock up anybody who might be bad, or might know someone who's bad, I think: Call me when al Qaeda has control of Virginia.

    Goodwin's book is about Lincoln's Cabinet. He took the best men he could find, three of whom had been his competitors for the Republican nomination. He took men who were committed abolitionists and men who insisted that preserving the union, not slavery, was the real issue. He let the men of his Cabinet disagree with him, in public and private, without penalty. He listened, really listened, to what they had to say. Then he made the decision. He was the decider. Turns out one of the best ways to be the decider is not to say that you're the decider.

    Lincoln read extensively and could quote vast swaths of Shakespeare from memory. He rarely left Washington, even in the oppressive heat of the summer, and never when the battle was nearby. The Civil War is still America's bloodiest war -- we lost more men in it than in all our other wars combined -- and he understood that, as the commander in chief, he had to have the courage to be near the carnage.

    Toward the end of the war, when many of his fellow Republicans were talking about punishing the Southerners for their disloyalty, Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural address, which promised to "bind up the wounds of the nation" with "malice toward none; with charity for all."

    Charity and love. Think of it.

It is good to remember that it's possible to be both powerful and humble. Of course, it takes a remarkable person, but isn't that the idea?

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