Today is Abraham Lincoln’s actual birthday. It’s been shoved aside in favor of something called President’s Day, a time for cut-rate prices and pizzas, but today is the actual day.
Lincoln’s Birthday requires us to contemplate the nature of great presidents. It seems to me that great presidents have four characteristics.
First, they are optimists. Even Lincoln was an optimist, believing that this nation could emerge stronger from the horrible struggle that was laid before him.
Second, great presidents emphasize a few great themes, and are known for them. Lincoln for winning the Civil War. Roosevelt for winning World War II. Reagan for winning the Cold War without firing a shot. They are not known for every single policy of their administrations. What, pray, was Lincoln’s agricultural policy?
Third, great presidents are known as men of words. We recall Lincoln’s great phrases, and Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” For some reason, great men have the capacity to capture a great theme, and a great moment, in a a memorable phrase. (Churchill, of course, was the master of this.) There is a difference between being a man (or woman) of words, and eloquence. Eloquence belongs to minor figures like Adlai Stevenson. These are men who “speak well,” but we don’t necessarily recall what they say because it is often so hollow. Stevenson spoke beautifully. Bill Clinton speaks beautifully. So does Barack Obama. Remember anything they’ve said?
Fourth, great presidents embody the spirit of the nation. This is something our current president does not understand at all. The great leader recognizes the human spirit, the notion that there is something larger than the next budget, or the next construction project. Obama cannot embrace American exceptionalism because he can’t comprehend it. He is from a pseudo-intellectual class that reduces everything to nuts and bolts. He might encourage his Justice Department to sue someone, but he could never write, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Great men write things like that.
FROM URGENT AGENDA (WWW.URGENTAGENDA.COM)
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