The Obligatory Lincoln Piece

Published: February 13, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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What would Mr. Lincoln say?

“Money is only valuable while in circulation…”

What about the bankers on Capitol Hill, yesterday, answering questions from a Congressional committee looking into what they’ve done with the first round of bailout money and what they intend to do next; what would Lincoln say about them?

“It is an old maxim and a very sound one that he that dances should always pay the fiddler… I am decidedly opposed to the people’s money being used to pay the fiddler.”

And what would Mr. Lincoln say about the Wall Street executives blaming one another for the economic mess we’re in?

“These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people, and now, that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people’s money to settle the quarrel.”

Sounds like old Abe faced many a problem that we’re looking at again!

Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, all manner of books, documentaries, tributes; as well as analysis, both critical and praiseworthy, have descended upon us this week.

However, when it comes to, what many would call, the greatest president of all time, I prefer to look at the man through his own words.

“I am, in height,” Lincoln wrote of himself, “six feet four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing on average one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair and grey eyes.  No other marks or brands recollected.”

In 1999, I was leaving St. Louis when I picked up a quick little read for the flight home.  Bite-Size Lincoln compiled by John Holms and Karin Baji is an interesting little collection of the wit and wisdom from our 16th President, many of which seem applicable to today’s issues.

How did Lincoln respond to the criticism that he changed his mind too often, what some would call, a “flip-flopper”?

“Yes, I have; and I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than yesterday.”

On Pork Barrel politics:  “Too many pigs; two few teats.”

On Party Politics:  “No party can command respect which sustains this year what it opposed the last.”

On Responsibility:  “I am here; I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take.”

On Communication:  “I determined to be so clear that no honest man could misunderstand me and no dishonest one could successfully misrepresent me.”

On Ethics:  “It is [man’s] duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind… I am for those means which will give the greatest good to the greatest number.”

On Honesty: “Question:  How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?  Answer:  Four.  Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

And when it came to working together in the face of difficult issues, Mr. Lincoln offered these words; words that Washington lawmakers might well consider again: “We can succeed only by concert.  It is not ‘Can any of us imagine better?’ but, ‘Can we all do better?’”

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