Saturday, September 22, 2012

Presidents Should Call Us to Greatness

The presidential campaign has an ugly, selfish and uncaring tone to it. It should be calling on Americans to be great and caring!
by Charlie Leck

David Gerson, today, in a column in the Washington Post, called Republicans away from mindless libertarianism and back to a healthy conservatism. He concluded his column by quoting gentle, old Abe Lincoln, who thought everyone deserved “an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

Well, that quotation got me thinking and remembering. I had an incredible old professor in college. His name was Harry Savage and he could read lines from the great Greek playwrights, from Shakespeare or from Abraham himself and make you think you were right there at the original expression of the words. So, I closed my eyes and remembered dear Doctor Savage and I heard President Lincoln speaking to the Congress of the United States of America. Try it! Listen for the voice of Abe himself as you read the following…

“It is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men – to lift artificial weights from all shoulders – to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all – to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.”

Wait! What?

Old Abe said it! It was not I.

“The leading object of government… is to elevate the condition of men – to lift artificial weights from all shoulders – to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all – to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”

Oh, my!

What Mitt Romney said to the gathered wealthy at that cocktail party is so far to the opposite end of political purpose from the statement made above by President Lincoln that it leaves me only shaking my head in pity for America if that is what we have become. I must believe that we have not.

I have got to believe, or it is a tragedy, that America is still the land that welcomes “the huddled masses yearning to be free.”

The rabble-rousing, I think, of the Tea Party and the libertarians has begun to ring hollow and sound terribly, terribly selfish. There is a certain mindlessness in both political philosophies of which real, old fashioned Americans are starting to tire. America is not a selfish nation. Great Presidents – really great and revered leaders – called Americans to rise up in times of distress, to help their brothers and sisters so that we might all share in the wonders of the shining seas and the amber waves of grain.

Franklin Roosevelt, in one of the most tragic moments in the nation’s life, called out to it: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

John Kennedy, in his inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country!”

Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address: “We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

Enough of that! This is the point: Presidents must call Americans away from selfishness and not to it. Presidents must dare us to be great and giving.

That was not the tenor or the tone of Mitt Romney’s words when he spoke to those gathered in that Boca Raton mansion. That was the fearful cry of the Tea Party. That was the selfishness of the libertarian. As Gerson says…

“In fact, the video confirmed an existing stereotype of Romney and Republicans as wealthy white businessmen, clinking wine glasses while bemoaning the irresponsibility of the help.” [David Gerson, Washington Post]

And, a bit later Gerson went on to write…

“Yet a Republican ideology pitting the ‘makers’ against the ‘takers’ offers nothing. No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change. This approach involves a relentless reductionism. Human worth is reduced to economic production. Social problems are reduced to personal vices. Politics is reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class.
“A few libertarians have wanted this fight ever since they read Atlas Shrugged as pimply adolescents. Given Romney’s background, record and faith, I don’t believe that he holds this view. I do believe that Republicans often parrot it, because they lack familiarity with other forms of conservatism that include a conception of the common good.
“But there really is no excuse. Republican politicians could turn to Burkean conservatism, with its emphasis on the ‘little platoons’ of civil society. They could reflect on the Catholic tradition of subsidiarity, and solidarity with the poor. They could draw inspiration from Tory evangelical social reformers such as William Wilberforce or Lord Shaftesbury. Or they could just read Abraham Lincoln, who stood for ‘an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.’
“Instead they mouth libertarian nonsense, unable to even describe some of the largest challenges of our time.”

That, dear readers, says it all.

I want my President to call America back to its greatness… “for the dignity of man and the destiny of Democracy!”

President Lyndon Johnson, in urging Congress to approve the Voting Rights Act: “I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of Democracy. I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.”

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