Posted on | January 14, 2013 | 2 Comments
As Vice President Biden prepares to deliver his recommendations to President Obama tomorrow on gun violence in America, and with the NRA’s president, David Keene’s assertion yesterday that “I would say that the likelihood is that they’re not going to be able to get an assault weapons ban through this Congress”(1), America once again is at a turning point.
These are troubling times. We find ourselves torn as a Union, drawn ever downward by a highly organized and politically brutal minority, absolutely committed to the preservation of the status quo, and national leadership bodies hypersensitive to their regional geographies, who lack the courage to stand up to bullies whose power is exaggerated and who will fold and collapse if only opposed.
These are troubling times. We have parents in mourning, a town in mourning, a nation in mourning. And in their face, we have the likes of Warren LaPierre and David Keene, who are immune to the slaughter of innocent children, apparently incapable of recognizing the source of suffering, and surely unwilling to interrupt the sources of their own fortunes and power even long enough to honor the dead.
These are troubling times. When a nation as powerful as ours, rich in diversity and innovation and human potential, seems stuck in time, unable to move forward, content to fall backward. And yet facts are facts, good is good, and evil is evil. Our nation will prevail, because our citizens will continue to confront evil, in their own way, in their own time, until we find our way back to our finer selves. That is our tradition, our gift for self-governance, our history.
In reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s remarkable book on President Lincoln and his cabinet this weekend, I could not help but to absorb the optimism of this “team of rivals” who, under crisis, found the will and strength – and yes, the patience and political timing – to confront evil. And I could not help but to believe that now – some 150 years later – we once again as a people, find ourselves tested in a manner that is eerily reminiscent of our troubled past.(2)
I came to this conclusion in a moment of reflection, when I encountered page 586 in the book. The author had just noted for the reader that 20 months before the January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln had remarked to a political ally that “the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity…if we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.”(2)
Three hundred and twenty three days later, following a two hour main address by former Harvard President Edward Everett, before 7000 solemn citizens, President Lincoln spoke the words I reread this weekend. When he finished, an observer remarked, “The assemblage stood motionless and silent. The extreme brevity of the address together with its abrupt close had so astonished the hearers that they stood transfixed. Had not Lincoln turned and moved toward his chair, the audience would very likely have remained voiceless for several moments more. Finally there came applause.”(2)
Lincoln quietly remarked, “It is a flat failure, and the people are disappointed.” But in truth, the audience, and the nation, and citizens to this day are grateful for those words. Harvard’s President Edward Everett summed it up that day, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”(2)
On the occasion of the Newtown Massacre on December 14, 2012, were President Lincoln to be there, I believe he would have delivered some version of the words below, first delivered on November 19, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I do not believe we will allow these children to have died in vain. There is a task before us, an evil to confront. As was the case a century and half ago, we require leaders with great courage and wisdom, supported by a populace committed to proving once again that “we are capable of governing ourselves.”
For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee
1. Pearson M. Gun Violence Fight Nears Next Stage. January 14, 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/14/politics/gun-laws-battle/index.html
2. Goodwin DK. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon and Schuster. 2005. http://www.doriskearnsgoodwin.com/