February 12th is Abraham Lincoln’s real birthday. We used to know that as kids until the powers that be morphed Abe with George to form President’s Day. Lincoln would be 202 this year.
Since our educational system seems determined these days to present Lincoln, warts and nothing else, it’s time to put in a good word for Abe. He provides one of the strongest reasons for the “great man” theory of history, that history revolves around the decisions of great (or evil) men in critical times. No Hitler, no World War II. No Reagan, no end of the Cold War on our terms. No Lincoln, no saving of the union.
Indeed, Lincoln was probably the indispensable man. We cannot really imagine anyone else in the American presidency in his place. He reminds us that great men are usually known for one great thing. Who recalls Lincoln’s agricultural policy? They are also known, not simply for great decisions, but the unique ability to explain those decisions, often in memorable prose. Lincoln is revered as much for his speeches as his actions. The speeches explain, and inspire.
Lincoln had one year of formal schooling. Take that, Ivy League.
We used to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Any literate American knew “With malice toward none, with charity for all…” Do young kids know those words today? I doubt it, and I doubt if they’re made to care. I doubt most even know when the Civil War occurred.
We recall FDR’s “Four Freedoms,” and his “day of infamy” speech after Pearl Harbor.
Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” has become a staple of American rhetoric.
Sadly, some of our recent presidents, and certainly the current one, don’t comprehend the power of a well-turned phrase. Do we recall anything that Bill Clinton every said, except for “I did not have sex with that woman…”? As for Mr. Obama, he’s a bright man, but a second-class writer. He mouths the words beautifully, but he’s like a bad date. You forget what he said immediately.
So, happy birthday, Abe. You did good. I wish we had film.
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