Mike Kueber's Blog

November 21, 2011

Where is Lincoln when you need him?

Filed under: History,Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:51 pm
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I have been totally preoccupied the past few days with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals.  This Lincoln biography was suggested to me by one of my best friends, who went to law school with me and is now studying Lincoln while pursuing a doctorate at UT-Austin.  The subject of his dissertation is whether Lee and Davis should have been tried for treason.

In previous discussions with my Austin friend, I have expressed skepticism about the greatness of Lincoln. All I knew was that he refused to let the Southern states leave the Union (something I disagree with) and that he was an ineffective commander in chief who took four years to defeat a much weaker opponent.  My Austin friend suggested that I dig a little deeper, and when I asked him for the title of a book to read, he said, Team of Rivals.

Although Team of Rivals is 750 pages long, it is not a comprehensive biography.  Rather, as suggested by its subtitle, “The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” it focuses on Lincoln’s unsurpassed ability to deal with conflicting demands and still achieve his objectives.  Lincoln’s presidential objectives were simple – namely, to keep the Union together and to stop the spread of slavery beyond the Southern states – and the author makes a convincing argument that no other person could have done that.  A lesser politician would have either lost the Union or allowed the spread of slavery westward.

Unfortunately, Lincoln’s assassination just as the Civil War was ending deprived America of those skills that were sorely during the Reconstruction, and you can’t avoid wondering how much better off America would have been if Lincoln had served four more years.

Which brings me to the title of this entry – Where’s Lincoln when you need him?  In Washington today, the parties are behaving more like Union and the Confederacy leading up to the Civil War.  First Boehner and Obama failed, and now that the Super Committee is giving up, you can’t avoid wondering whether a person with Lincoln’s political skills could save America from its impending economic disaster.  Lincoln was a master of keeping the middle together despite the competing demands from the abolitionist Republicans and the appeasing Democrats/Whigs.  The situation today in Washington certainly has a large middle ground for resolving our current problem, but no politician seems to have the ability to control the radicals who are pulling us apart.  Perhaps the 2012 election will bring us our Lincoln.