Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial

Well, if Abraham Lincoln were alive today, he'd be 200.

That certainly wouldn't have happened, but, as a country, we could have used a few more years of his wisdom, decency, and wit. (Andrew Johnson? Talk about accept no substitutes.)

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As a kid, I was always proud that my mother had grown up in the Land of Lincoln.

Of course, her Land of Lincoln was hog-butcher-of-the-world, Windy City, Chicagoland Land of Lincoln, not railsplitting, waving cornfields, downstate Land of Lincoln. Still, I liked to see that motto on the license plates of our relatives. Massachusetts license plates were barren: no Bay State, no Land of the Pilgrims' Pride, no Land of Listen My Children. No nothing. (For a while, our license plates said "Spirit of America," which it seems to me something that most state's would have no problem claiming - rightly or wrongly. Talk about something that's non-differentiated. But even that was something. Now our license plates are once again motto-less. Alas!)

Abraham Lincoln.

Discounting my period of Irish Catholic kid from Massachusetts bedazzled worship of JFK, Lincoln and FDR were always my favorite presidents.

Slaves aside, I also liked Thomas Jefferson - mostly because he was so damned smart.

Which was, of course, one of the reason's why I like Lincoln so much.

He was so damned smart.

He could write, he could think, he had a sense of humor, he didn't belong to a church (this is a later reason for liking Abe: I certainly wouldn't have had it as a kid). He was tough, he was shrewd, he was interesting looking.

He was self-made, something I am always a sucker for.

He came from nothing. He became everything. The American story writ large.

Self-made.

Well, we're all more or less self-made, but it's always so heartening when someone who comes from the back-ass of nowhere, with nothing in his/her pocket, makes it big.

It's something I have complete and utter admiration of Ronald Reagan for. Having driven through Dixon, Illinois, and been on the Eureka College campus, well, all I can say is no wonder Reagan had a dewy-eyed view of the opportunities that are made in the USA.

And coming from nothing is one of the reasons that, even with all his odious, self-made zipper problems, I have always managed to hang on to some degree of complete and utter admiration for William Jefferson Clinton.

Abraham Lincoln. Here's the ending words of his first inaugural:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. (Source: Bartleby.com.)

I am loath to even try to close after that, other than to say that they don't make presidents like the use to.

Or do they?

Here's hoping.

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