[Mb-civic] Lincoln's Winning Strategy for 2008 By DAVID BROOKS
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Sun Mar 26 10:07:07 PST 2006
The New York Times
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March 26, 2006
Lincoln's Winning Strategy for 2008
By DAVID BROOKS
Let's say you're one of the 36,000 people thinking of running for president
in 2008. You're wooing donors (like Zero Mostel in "The Producers"),
rounding up consultants and pretending you respect journalists so they'll
give you good press when you need it later on. But in the back of your mind
you are wondering: How am I going to inspire a war-weary nation? How am I
going to unite a bitterly divided land?
If you're going to frame a successful campaign in these circumstances,
you're going to have to learn from Lincoln, a man who knew about war and
The Civil War was of course bloodier and more dismal than anything we're
facing today. Leadership blunders led to more American deaths in single
hours than we've seen during three years in Iraq. Lincoln's opponents argued
that the South was too culturally and economically dissimilar to be
reconciled with the North, that blacks could not live freely and equally
But as the situation grew dire, Lincoln did not scale back his ambitions or
grow more "realistic." On the contrary, he enlarged and revolutionized the
meaning of the war. He emancipated the slaves. He portrayed the war as a
front in a worldwide struggle for liberty.
"This kind of response to Southern secession might seem counterintuitive
to take on more burdens, instead of less, just when the night was darkest,"
Paul Berman has written. But Lincoln understood that the American creed was
his strongest weapon. He knew it would attract allies and manpower.
While never losing sight of the ultimate purpose the triumph of freedom
he pursued his ends with amazing prudence. The historian Allen Guelzo has
shown that Lincoln intended to emancipate the slaves from the very first,
but he was cautious in the way he proceeded.
His first inaugural was so full of concessions, it enraged his evangelical
allies. He brought men of wildly different opinions and interests into his
cabinet, as Doris Kearns Goodwin has reminded us. He sought to eradicate
slavery gradually, with compensation for slaveholders, and within the
framework of the Constitution. Even when the Emancipation Proclamation came,
it was a famously dry, uninspiring document.
He was guided by a sense that God is self-concealing. Over the long run, the
course of providence is toward justice, but the path is mysterious, so a
prudent person is ready for setbacks, lulls and ironies. Lincoln could take
startling chances Emancipation was one but he could also wait.
His brand of ironic, prudent idealism was evident in domestic policy as
well. He had a long-range vision of a just society, implied in the
Declaration of Independence. The U.S. was to be a land where all people
would have "an open field and a fair chance" for their "industry, enterprise
and intelligence." It would be a land of hard-working people striving to
rise and transform themselves. His government did everything it could to
enhance social mobility.
But in the meantime, he was cautious. He was suspicious of those who tried
to divide the nation between the haves and the have-nots, and between
natives and immigrants. These sorts of divisions are generally exploited by
people trying to get something for nothing.
Far from regarding immigrants as culturally alien, Lincoln saw them as a
"replenishing stream." They were true Americans, just as if they were "flesh
of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration." He rejected schemes to
give immigrants second-class citizenship. These are the schemes kings are
always devising, he argued, products of the "same old serpent that says you
work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it."
The people who run for president in 2008 will find themselves campaigning in
a weary nation. They will also confront an old form of multiculturalism that
has been given a new life. This is the multiculturalism that puts aside the
universal claims of the Declaration of Independence, which Lincoln
cherished. Instead, it says, democracy is good for many cultures, but not
for Arabs. America has benefited from other immigrants, but not the current
wave of Mexicans.
This is a multiculturalism born of frustration, embraced by people who have
been so soured by the course of change that they've given up on the
The candidates who hope to reinspire such an electorate will have to devise
foreign and domestic policies that pursue Lincoln's core goal: "The theory
of our government is universal freedom." But they'll have to show they can
be prudent in pursuit of that difficult ideal.
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