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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.



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Friday, February 13, 2009
 
Playing the Mystic Chords of Memory….Like a Kazoo

Before I begin this rather lengthy piece, I would like to make one thing clear. Politicians have been wrapping themselves with the events and figures of the past for as long… well perhaps as long as there have been politicians. So when President Obama continues to wrap himself with the legacy of Abraham Lincoln well I usually just roll my eyes and let it go.

However in reading what the President said at Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield on the 200th birthday of the Great Emancipator, I must strenuously object. Obama has not just wrapped himself in the glory and aura of Lincoln which is in part his due given the day and his position, but he has distorted the man’s legacy in order to use it as a club to beat his current day enemies.

After some opening remarks about the significance of the day and the man who he has come to honor, Obama provides a statement that Lincoln was purported to have written in 1854.

"The legitimate object of government," he wrote, "is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, by themselves.

Obama then asks where did Lincoln’s devotion to Union, to which he gave his last full devotion to, come from?

But he also understood something else. He recognized that while each of us must do our part, work as hard as we can, and be as responsible as we can – in the end, there are certain things we cannot do on our own. There are certain things we can only do together. There are certain things only a union can do.

Only a union could harness the courage of our pioneers to settle the American west, which is why he passed a Homestead Act giving a tract of land to anyone seeking a stake in our growing economy.

Only a union could foster the ingenuity of our farmers, which is why he set up land-grant colleges that taught them how to make the most of their land while giving their children an education that let them dream the American dream.

Only a union could speed our expansion and connect our coasts with a transcontinental railroad, and so, even in the midst of civil war, he built one. He fueled new enterprises with a national currency, spurred innovation, and ignited America’s imagination with a national academy of sciences, believing we must, as he put it, add "the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery…of new and useful things."

I will come back to this in a moment because the money graph is coming:

But in recent years, we’ve seen the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction. It’s a philosophy that says every problem can be solved if only government would step out of the way; that if government were just dismantled, divvied up into tax breaks, and handed out to the wealthiest among us, it would somehow benefit us all. Such knee-jerk disdain for government – this constant rejection of any common endeavor – cannot rebuild our levees or our roads or our bridges. It cannot refurbish our schools or modernize our health care system; lead to the next medical discovery or yield the research and technology that will spark a clean energy economy.

Only a nation can do these things. Only by coming together, all of us, and expressing that sense of shared sacrifice and responsibility – for ourselves and one another – can we do the work that must be done in this country. That is the very definition of being American.

It is here that the recent re-incarnation of President Obama is on full display; where we no longer see the promised bi-partisan healer but rather a warrior on the attack against the unnamed other who would put the nation at risk in order to line their pockets.

Neither Obama nor anyone else has been able to pick one Republican of any stature who has displayed “this constant rejection of any common endeavor,” such commonality would presumably include national defense and that massive pork-laden transportation bill a few years ago. Americans of different partisan stripes may disagree on the type and extent of common endeavor but only the most isolated libertarian has claimed that there is no need for “any common endeavor.”

There is much to parse here. Note his depiction that that the “next medical discovery” and “research and technology” can only come from the effort of government; despite the fact that my local pharmacy is lined with medications that were all produced by the private sector. Note his contrasting of those who would reject government and would rather it be “divvied up into tax breaks, and handed out to the wealthiest among us” with “only by coming together, all of us, and expressing that sense of shared sacrifice and responsibility…. That is the very definition of being American.”

So where does Obama get off by constructing a strawman and then exhorting us to burn it like a Salem witch? Where does he get the idea that government is needed to create all things good and common?

By using and distorting Lincoln’s historical legacy.

Let’s start with his citing of Lincoln at the beginning… “"The legitimate object of government," he wrote, "is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, by themselves” The rest of the quote is this:

There are many such things---some of them exist independently of the injustice in the world. Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men's property, are instances.

But a far larger class of objects springs from the injustice of men. If one people will make war upon another, it is a necessity with that other to unite and cooperate for defense. Hence the military department. If some men will kill, or beat, or constrain others, or despoil them of property, by force, fraud, or noncompliance

So while Obama was using Lincoln's quote to justify all sorts of national programs and to involve itself in the minutiae of its citizens daily life, what Lincoln was mostly after was to defend the population from enemies and criminals. If you subscribe to the view that the $800 billion “stimulus” package, funded by debt, amounts to intergenerational theft then you will be amused by the “despoil them of property” part.

However the misuse of Lincoln does not end there Keep in mind that Lincoln often wrote and spoke about “union” but did so in the context of American nationhood, citizenship, and the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. He didn’t speak or write of “union” as a means of collective action through government bureaucracies or the involvement of the national government in the details of its citizens' lives. Keeping mind that through the early part of the 20th Century the primary contact most people had with the federal government was the post office, I think Lincoln would have found the notion of “union” that Obama puts in his mouth rather strange.

Let’s go back to the section I cited above and look more closely at what President Obama said:

Only a union could foster the ingenuity of our farmers

Sort of Clinton’s “It Takes a Village.” I never knew it took a country to foster to ingenuity of 19th Century farmers

Only a union could speed our expansion and connect our coasts with a transcontinental railroad, and so, even in the midst of civil war, he built one.

Uhhhh no, the railroad wasn’t “built” until 4 years after Lincoln’s death. In fact except for some road work in the Sierra Nevada, major work didn’t even begin until 3 months after his death.

He fueled new enterprises with a national currency, spurred innovation,

The national currency and spurring innovation bits didn’t just emerge because Lincoln thought they were good ideas to stimulate the economy; they came about because of the needs of the Civil War economy.

...and ignited America’s imagination with a national academy of sciences, believing we must, as he put it, add "the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery…of new and useful things."

I missed the part of how the NAS “ignited” 19th Century America’s imagination, probably right up there with the feds fostering ingenuity. Perhaps I need to re-read Edison’s biography. The key part here is “the fuel of interest to the fire of genius…” which had nothing to do with the creation of NAS in 1863 but referred to remarks Lincoln made 4 years earlier regarding the need for intellectual property law so that innovators could make money from their invention. The "fuel of interest" wasn't lighting up little schoolchildren's eyes with the magic of science (see Arizona Science Center) but rather making moolah for inventors.

It's like Obama created some sort of Zombie Lincoln, making Old Abe say things and do things he really didn't. No doubt during next year's Lincoln Birthday celebration, Obama will drag up some quotes claiming that the 16th President was really in favor of nationalized health care and carbon credits.

A few closing remarks here.

A politician should always be careful about using a ceremonial function to make partisan political attacks especially when such attacks involve untruths and gross distortions.

A politician should be careful when making such partisan political attacks to avoid using icons of the party he is attacking

A politician should avoid distorting the record of one of the country’s greatest heroes (Lincoln would have been in favor of the stimulus bill?) in order to push a current piece of legislation.

The staff member who thought giving a speech like was a good idea should be found out and banished to the deepest basement of the Fargo Federal Building.