Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dr. Bill Roy: "A miraculous symmetry - Lincoln and Obama in '08?"

A Miraculous Symmetry: Lincoln and Obama in '08
Dr. Bill Roy,
lawyer, physician, congressman
(Ks., 2nd Dist., '70 - '74)

I wanted it for Christmas. And, sure enough, good friends gave me the book entitled “The American Idea” that contains 78 essays written over the 150-year history of The Atlantic Monthly--an eternity for a serious magazine and a span covering nearly two-thirds of our nation’s history.
Its founders, among whom were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell, pledged the magazine would be “the organ of no party or clique.” Nevertheless, they, antislavery all and abolitionists some, found themselves in three short years on the eve of the election of 1860, the most important in our nation’s history, before or since.
Lowell, the brilliant 41 year-old editor, wrote “November Election,” a strongly partisan pitch for Abraham Lincoln, the nominee of the new Republican Party, whose chief strength Lowell found to be its “moral aversion to slavery as a great wrong.”
I can hardly make a case that we are knowingly facing an election likely to have such serious consequences as the election of 1860. Today’s issues are too diverse, and barring a nuclear disaster we are unlikely to engage in a war that kills one in 50 Americans.
But the consequences of an undeclared, eternal war against the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, voracious consumption of the world’s resources, and unsettled economic times are neither clear nor trivial.
Sounding alarms that are familiar today, Lowell wrote, “The very government itself seems an organized scramble, and Congress a boys’ debating club (we‘ve fixed that by adding 86 women to the mix), with the disadvantage of being reported.” And, “As our party-creeds are commonly represented less by ideas and more by persons (who are assumed, without too close a scrutiny, to be exponents of certain ideas), our politics become personal and narrow to a degree never paralleled, unless in ancient Athens or medieval Florence.”
Also like today, the next president was highly uncertain. In the end, Lincoln defeated three other candidates with 39.8% of the vote in the general election. Today, with caucuses and primaries hard upon us, Republicans have four very viable candidates, and Democrats have three potential winners.
Lowell’s first lines provide assurances for current Republicans who fear Hillary Clinton, and for others who are uneasy with putting a real Baptist minister or a Mormon chameleon into the oval office.
“It is a proverb, that to turn a radical into a conservative there needs only to put him into office, because then the license of speculation or sentiment is limited by the sense of responsibility,--then for the first time he becomes capable of the comparative view which sees principles and measures, not in the narrow abstract, but in the full breadth of their relation to each other and to political consequences.”
But, that may be hard to sell post George W. Bush.
Endorsing Lincoln, Lowell came up with plausible lines Barack Obama partisans should adopt with alacrity: “he has had enough experience in public affairs to make him a statesman, and not enough to make him a politician.”
Lowell writes, “That he has not more (experience) will be no objection to him in the eyes of those who have seen the administration of the experienced public functionary (President James Buchanan) whose term of office is just growing to a close.”
If four terms in the Illinois House and two years (1847-49) in the U. S. House, plus a series of brilliant debates were enough experience for president for the voters of 147 years ago when they were knowingly nearing a national crisis, than seven years in the Illinois Senate and four years in the U. S. Senate, plus three personally written books including the exceptional “Dreams from My Father,” should meet the all-important experience test for Obama.
If that is our country’s decision, there will come a miraculous symmetry between the election of the Great Emancipator and the redemptive election of an African American, a result unthinkable 50 years ago. And, there are enough unresolved issues for him to become the second greatest president in American history.

Dr. Roy may be reached at

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