The Day(s) After
Abraham Lincoln is remembered as one of our greatest Presidents today, but he was not always popular in his time.
When the southern states broke from the Union in 1861, sparking our Civil War, there were riots in the streets of the northern states in protest of a military draft. Even within his own Republican party, there were opposing factions, who believed Lincoln either moved too slowly or too quickly on the issue of slavery. He was known to spin a good yarn to amuse his audiences, he was otherwise not considered a great orator. The address he gave following the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, while carefully prepared, was thought at the time to be unmemorable in its impact, generating merely polite applause at its end. Generations of American schoolchildren would learn it as one of our Nation's most memorable Presidential addresses.
History often tells a different tale, with the passage of time from its most critical moments. And yet, throughout our history as a Nation, Americans have chosen all manner of men to serve in their Nation's highest office. Some of them have been less than remarkable, if not perfectly dreadful, to such an extent that it is a wonder our Nation survived them. Others proved as examples of the full measure of a man's character. In the end, history has been more than kind to men like Lincoln, in a world where the benefit of hindsight goes a long way.
One thing may be gleaned from this view of history. Men of great character are remembered best of all in the long view of things. This does not always imply their popularity while they are still alive. Many are still alive today, for example, who remember Harry Truman as one our least popular Presidents. Less than thirty years after leaving office under a cloud, he was already revered in books and one-man plays.
For most of this week, I have chosen to view the reactions of others to the recent election, and synthesize their opinions of what happened and why, what should have happened, and where to go from here. It was during that time that I discovered this quotation from an anonymous source:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence; from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependency back again into bondage."
In contemplating that passage, I am struck by the process of ascendency and decline, measured as though it were the everlasting series of benchmarks of all empires in our history, as though moving in a circle...
From bondage to spiritual faith...
from spiritual faith to great courage...
from courage to liberty...
from liberty to abundance.
It is here that something changes, something that historians would see repeated over the eons. How many civilizations would prevail, were they to know how to detect it?
From abundance to selfishness...
from selfishness to complacency...
from complacency to apathy...
from apathy to dependence...
from dependency back again into bondage.
These great empires appear to have fallen, when they forgot who they were, and what they were about, the very ideals that made them great at the offset. When hearing of the news of Barack Obama's election to the Presidency, one Florida woman may have embodied the seeds of the bad omen already planted. Why was this election so important for her? “Because I never thought this day would ever happen. I won’t have to worry about putting gas in my car. I won’t have to worry about paying my mortgage. You know. If I help [Obama], he’s gonna help me.”
Is this the way the phase known as "dependency" begins?
This could not have been what the majority of Americans wanted in a president. Aside from the more progressive regions on either coast, the great "flyover country" in America's midsection, is largely provincial in nature, the beneficiary of creatures of habit. We did not arise from our slumber, seven years after the events of "9/11," to become a nation of socialists. It is more likely that we decided as a nation, that our choice was preferable to the alternative. If that would appear far-fetched, consider that while Barack Obama presented a carefully crafted message of bullet-points about "hope" and "change," the message of his opponent, John McCain, betrayed the waffling that had been going on within the Republican Party, indeed within the conservative movement, for much of the past year. (Only recently do we learn that such was the case within his own campaign staff, particularly with regard to the role of his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.) It is said that "the drowning man will grasp even the point of a sword." It is in desperate times that Americans want clarity, even to the point of being cosmetic. Promise us something, promise us anything. Let us be a people with promise.
Such was the groundwork laid for the ultimate victory of style over substance.
Most of those who supported the Republican John McCain, are resigned to the prospect, that the Nation did not so much elect the Democrat Barack Obama, as they voted "no confidence" to his Republican predecessor, George W Bush. Whether this is entirely fair is a matter of some conjecture, inasmuch as the executive branch of our Government often has far less control over the Nation's direction than, say, the legislative branch. But in voting the way in which they did, Americans were willing to overlook Obama's inconclusive background, a lack of released published legal opinions (even from a former editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review), not to mention his known associations with a convicted felon, avowed socialists, and self-confessed domestic terrorists. They turned a blind eye, in the face of numerous investigations of voter fraud, committed by an organization of which Obama was once a leader, one which openly promoted his candidacy. None of this mattered to them. What mattered, was the cry for a savior, someone larger than life who would guarantee the Peggy Josephs of this Nation, that all would be taken care of. "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage," went one political slogan nearly a century ago. Such promises had been found wanting before, but what of it? Anything had to be better than what the Nation had endured for the last eight years. Or was it?
To enable this illusion, there was the mainstream media. The people who present what passes for news, in print and on television, would openly tout their support for Obama, putting their journalistic integrity aside to slant their coverage in his favor. Even former CBS news anchor Dan Rather was forced to admit such a pattern of bias. Most recently, The Washington Post has come out and admitted to the same.
The Post provided a lot of good campaign coverage, but readers have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts...
My assistant, Jean Hwang, and I have been examining Post coverage since Nov. 11 last year... The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on Sen. John McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces (58) about McCain than there were about Obama (32), and Obama got the editorial board's endorsement. The Post has several conservative columnists, but not all were gung-ho about McCain...
One gaping hole in coverage involved Joe Biden, Obama's running mate. When Gov. Sarah Palin was nominated for vice president, reporters were booking the next flight to Alaska. Some readers thought The Post went over Palin with a fine-tooth comb and neglected Biden. They are right; it was a serious omission.
For a time, it seemed that the news machine might redeem themselves. Both CNN and MSNBC were covering stories on voter registration fraud by ACORN, and the relationship between Obama and former terrorist William Ayers. But then, a plumber from Ohio had the unmitigated gall to ask Obama about his tax proposals during a campaign stop, and was told of the need to "spread the wealth around." Not willing to lend proper scrutiny to such a reckless statement that smacked of socialism, the devotees of Hope and Change proceeded to uncover the private details of a private citizen, whose only crime was the exercise of his First Amendment rights, in the face of an ostensibly open and fair election. The talking heads at CNN and MSNBC had the excuse they needed, and the witch hunt against "Joe the Plumber" began in earnest.
The American people, who would surely know that what happened to "Joe" could happen to any one of them, voted for the elusive promise of salvation. They defeated a decorated war hero, who suffered for his country in a POW camp in Vietnam. The rejected a man whose character had to have been built by unimaginable struggle, for the sake of a vision of the future that was as yet ill-defined.
To look upon history, is not to be held captive by the past, nor is it a refusal to move on. If "what is past is prologue," our future depends on what we glean from these pages already turned.
The party of Lincoln needed a true conservative, to continue the "Reagan Revolution" which brought new optimism to the party, and to the Nation. What it got was John McCain, a proponent of the "big tent" philosophy among some Republicans. Call them "the East Coast establishment" or "country club Republicans" or "Rockefeller Republicans." Call them what you will. Their approach didn't work in 2008, and it will not work in 2012 either. If the GOP is to take back the White House (or even the House and/or Senate, for that matter) it must stand for something, and STAY standing for something. It must play to its strengths; fiscal conservatism with a genuine commitment to smaller government, the heartfelt (as opposed to half-hearted) pledge to family values, including the right of the innocent unborn to life, and the resolve to maintain a strong national defense, including the security of our national borders. It is the waffling in all these areas -- over a sustained period of time, never mind the last eight years -- that cost them the election. Their wayward path can only be strengthened by a new breed of Republican leaders; Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sarah Palin of Alaska, and Michael Steele of Maryland, to name three. It is time for the Republican Party to finally admit, that the neoconservatism of Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney, and yes, George W Bush, has run its course, whether the late night talk show hosts care to agree or not.
In the course of formulating this message and its propagation, the mainstream media must also be held accountable. The constant fawning by the likes of Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann and countless others over one candidate, and the adolescent derision of the other, may be the entitlement of their opinion, but it is not journalism. Indeed, with the possible exception of the Fox News Channel (rated by the recent Pew study to have provided the most balanced reporting of this election), most of the voices of the major media outlets, including the "Big Three," and the major cable news channels, have lost the right to be called journalists.
The irregularities in voter registration and fundraising that have marked this campaign may yet be subject to Federal investigation, but conservatives know that such scrutiny may be laid aside amidst the current reckless optimism. To be gracious in defeat is one sign of good character. Learning from past mistakes is another. So long as we are a Nation under God, we are a Nation worth saving. If we have ever taken those blessings for granted, we cannot afford such a luxury again.