Friday, October 14, 2016.
Team of Rivals: Lincoln goes over the Emancipation Proclamation with his cabinet. Sitting across the table directly opposite him is his Hillary Clinton, political rival, turned advisor, turned friend, Secretary of State William Seward.
So much of greater import is going on that carping about one dumb Tweet by MIke Pence boasting of being a member of the Party of Lincoln seems as trivial as Mike Pence himself, but it’s been eating at me and I know I won’t be able to write about anything else until I write this one out of my system, so here goes...
I didn’t watch the second debate Monday night, because One.) Baseball. Two.) My eyes were giving me trouble again. Three.) Who needs the aggravation? Four.) Baseball.
On top of that, what did I need to see? Whatever good Presidential debates do, if any besides providing an evening of political theater, they do it for people who haven’t been following the election all that closely until time of the debates or who truly haven’t yet made up their minds. I don’t fall into either category, so see above. I didn’t watch the first debate either. Probably won’t watch the last debate. Again, see above.
Of course, I keep half an eye on Twitter as they go along and I catch up the next day, reading all about it in the newspapers and online and watching a few clips. So I get the news. But I miss the drama and political theater. Generally a good thing for my mental health but politics is political theater. Trump’s sniffing and stalking are important parts of the debates. So was the appearance of the sweater guy. And too much of what I read is colored by analysis. And not everything makes it into every story, so I miss stuff.
Like the mini-debate about Lincoln and Lincoln, the president and the movie, and private positions versus public ones.
Over at Bill Moyers.com, Neal Gabler breaks down what Clinton said and argues she was making an important point about how politics and governance work in the real world. Of course I agree it’s an important point, it’s just not one that sounds good or plays well on TV or the stump. Too wonkish and...pragmatic, a word that, as we learned in the Democratic primaries, is nearly synonymous with cynical, corrupt, and defeatist. Idealism’s antonym. Almost as bad as neo-liberal and incremental. It’s going to sound worse too when the Clinton Rules are in effect, which they always are. If a Clinton says it, does it, thinks it it’s suspect to the point of convicting, even if it’s something other politicians routinely say, do, and think to cheers and applause. Even if Abraham Lincoln said it, did it, or thought it. Clinton was simply pointing out that politics and governance are hard and tricky businesses, as Lincoln, a master of both, well understood, and she has tried to learn how the trick is done from Lincoln’s example. She wasn’t comparing herself explicitly to Lincoln. Even Trump got that.
But he still got off a pretty good laugh line based on his seeming to think that what she said sounded to him like it probably sounded to most people listening with half an ear, like a justification for lying.
As it happens, Trump has compared himself to Lincoln. He’s probably forgotten, if he was even paying attention to what he was saying when he did it. That he’s often not listening to himself would explain how he’s routinely able to straight-facedly deny he’s said something he’s on video saying. Back in March he compared himself to Lincoln in the matter of presidential comportment. Seems some people think Trump doesn’t act presidential. Trump is aware of this, and he defended himself that night beside a stack of Trump steaks he was hawking by way of fundraising. He admitted that maybe he wasn’t acting all that presidential now, but, he said, just watch him when he gets to the White House. With the humility for which he’s known, he conceded he couldn’t be a presidential as Lincoln. But if Lincoln was our most presidential president, as Trump implied he believes, then he, himself, Donald Trump, would come in a close second.
“I can be more presidential than anybody, if I want to be,” Trump said. “More presidential than anybody, other than the great Abe Lincoln. He was very presidential.”
Considering that Trump usually boasts he’s the best at anything, this was an extremely humble admission.
But think about it.
“More presidential than anybody”?
More presidential than the forty-two other presidents?
That would include George Washington.
Trump thinks he could be more presidential than George Washington?
If he wanted to be, apparently.
Hillary said what she said. Trump pounced. He got his laugh. The debate moved on and that was mostly that. All over and forgotten by almost everybody. There were other things to talk about the next morning. Much more of greater significance had happened at the debate and there was the sweater guy. Trump was declared the loser and he took that with his usual grace, continuing to “joke” about locking Hillary up when he’s elected and otherwise setting to work trying to incite armed insurrection and undermine the legitimacy of the coming election that now looks more and more like it will give the country a second President Clinton. The public position versus private position argument has been set aside probably until the pundit class needs it to enforce another Clinton Rule against that second President Clinton. Maybe they won’t be able to wait and they’ll use it to try the patience of the second President-elect Clinton while she’s busy assembling her own team of rivals. I gather from some of my usual sources that a few tenacious pundits not as insightful or sympathetically disposed as Gabler have since tried to explain what Clinton meant and why she was wrong and then set her straight, their analyses mainly based on their own half-remembered high school history lessons, what they sort of remember some historians said Spielberg got wrong back when the movie came out, and what they vaguely recalled gleaning from their skimming of Team of Rivals back after the 2008 election when Obama’s people made sure it was known that the president-elect was reading that book as he was putting together his cabinet, intending to put into practice what he’d learned from Lincoln’s pragmatic example.
I don’t know if anyone else noted what I’m about to note, which is that within Clinton’s exposition there is an actual comparison to be made to Lincoln, the movie and the history, but it’s not between herself and Lincoln himself. It’s between herself and William Seward, Lincoln’s main rival for the Republican nomination in 1860, who became his Secretary of State, ardent admirer, good friend, and trusted adviser.
At any rate, the issue's gone for now. I’d be paying it no more mind myself, except…
Mike Pence had to go and tweet this:
Hillary Clinton is no Honest Abe. pic.twitter.com/GCJ3vSfmnK— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) October 10, 2016
In case you can't see the tweet, it shows a photo of Pence looking like a white-haired GI Joe with the words in quotes over it: "As a member of the Party Lincoln, I'd really prefer if Dishonest Hillary didn't associate herself with Honest Abe." And underneath: "Hillary Clinton is no Honest Abe."
Let’s set aside for the moment how rich it is that Mike Pence is associating himself with Honest Abe, considering that his job these days is to be chief apologist for the most brazen and malicious liar ever nominated for President---and keep mind that Richard Nixon also belonged to the Party of Lincoln---and that Pence “won” his debate with Tim Kaine (at least in the eyes of the pundits) by lying his way through it non-stop. When I saw what Pence had tweeted, my first thought, after all the expletives deleted, was to wonder if Mike Pence knows the history of his “Party of Lincoln”?
Does he know that it became the anti-immigrant party very soon after Lincoln died?
Does he know about the “Compromise” of 1877 that put Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House in exchange for ending Reconstruction, the beginning of the GOP’s first Southern Strategy?
Does he know that the GOP welcomed into the party the likes of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms with wide-open arms?
Does he know what liberty Barry Goldwater was calling upon Republicans to be extreme in the defense of?
Does he know his is the party of "States Rights"? Does he know what Lincoln thought of that idea?
Does he know what "States Rights" means to the people who're constantly invoking it?
Does he know what it means that his party was defending the Confederate Flag up until, oh, today?
Does he remember that his party, the Party of Honest Abe, nominated Richard Nixon for president three times?
Does he know about Nixon’s Southern Strategy? Does he know what it was?
Does he know what Richard Nixon was? Does he know who he was?
For that matter, does he know who Abraham Lincoln was?
Of course Pence can (probably) identify Lincoln as the 16th President, the one who ended slavery and saved the Union but…
Can he tell us a single fact about what Abe believed or thought beyond what he learned in grade school or picked up from the movie---although he’s got a history of missing the point when it comes to taking away a lesson from a movie---or gleaned from his own skimming of Team of Rivals, if he even skimmed it, if he even knew everybody else in Washington was skimming it and why?
Beside the Gettysburg Address and, maybe a few lines from the Second Inaugural, can he quote or even paraphrase anything Lincoln wrote or said?
As I know you know, Mike Pence is the soon-to-be former governor of Indiana. Effectively, he’s been the former governor of Indiana since he was foisted upon Trump as his running mate. If the Indiana election could have been held the day before Pence find a lifeboat aboard the ticket, he’d have been the ex-governor already. There are numerous humiliations that go along with being Trump’s vice-presidential nominee, but at least he’s spared the humiliation of losing a re-election bid. He’s not popular in Indiana these days.
Indiana can claim Lincoln as one of its own. He grew up there. Lived there from when he was seven until he was twenty-one. When Mrs M and I lived in Indiana, Lincoln was as revered and celebrated among Hoosiers, at least officially, as Larry Bird, although not nearly as much as Bobby Knight.
But we lived in Fort Wayne. Pence grew up in Columbus, Indiana. Nice town, I hear, but it’s down in the part of the state that was the Copperhead South, an area he represented in Congress too. Fort Wayne was settled by New Englanders and German and Irish immigrants moving west along the Erie and Wabash canals. The southern parts of the state were settled by Southerners, Scotch-Irish from Kentucky and Tennessee, a group that included Lincoln’s family. Lincoln himself was born in Kentucky. The headquarters for Lincoln National Life Insurance was in Fort Wayne and there was a fine little Lincoln museum in the building, but Pence is from what is more truly Lincoln country than Fort Wayne. But I can’t tell you what they thought of Lincoln down there when Pence was growing up. I imagine he was revered but in the same way a lot of Catholics revere the saints and apostles, without giving much thought as to who and what they were as actual human beings.
But for all I know, Mike Pence is full up with Lincoln lore. Lincoln might be his favorite movie. He might not have skimmed Team of Rivals but read it cover to cover. He might devour every new Lincoln biography that comes along and one of the many things he regrets about all the lying he’s had to do for Donald Trump is it hasn’t left him time to read A Self-Made Man, the first volume of Sidney Blumenthal’s new biography of Honest Abe.
If that’s the case, if Pence is more of a student of Lincoln’s life than I’d expect, then somewhere in all his reading he must have come across this passage from a letter Lincoln wrote to his friend Joshua Speed in 1855, when the party of Lincoln at the time, the one he belonged to and worked hard for, the Whigs, was coming apart, torn between its anti-slavery wing and the faction that became known as the Know-Nothings. The Know-Nothings were nativists and anti-Catholics furious at the common cause Whig party leaders were making with anti-slavery German immigrants. Lincoln wrote to Speed:
“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it, ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, ‘all men created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty---to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, without the base alloy of [hypocrisy].”
And maybe Pence even knows that this, sadly, was Lincoln’s private position. Publicly, Lincoln did not criticize the Know-Nothings because he was calculating that the Whigs needed them in order to survive and win the elections necessary to gaining the political offices and power that would allow them to end slavery.
If Pence ever did read the letter, its lesson didn’t stick. Mike Pence isn’t just an apologist and designated clean-up liar for the current know-nothing nominee of the “Party of Lincoln,” he’s a dedicated know-nothing himself who has literally attempted to get the Declaration of Independence to read, at least in Indiana, “All persons are created equal except women, LGBT people, and refugees.”
Mike Pence is the worst, as Melissa McEwan, a native Hoosier all too familiar with what it's like to live in that Pence-benighted state, says and shows in this Storyfy-ication of her Tweetstorm reacting to Pence’s reaction to President Obama’s speech at the Democratic Convention in July.
On his blog at Esquire, Charles Pierce has summed him up as “a creationist sexual bigot who believes gayness is a condition that can be cured and that Disney cartoons are weakening the U.S. military.”
David Duke has endorsed Donald Trump. At one point Honest Donald claimed to know nothing about it. Any of it. Duke. The Klan. White supremacists. He drew a complete blank.
"I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay," Trump said. "I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. I don't know, did he endorse me? Or what's going on. Because I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists."
At the time he said that he’d already disavowed Duke and his endorsement.
So he told a lie when for once the truth would have been more to his credit.
More presidential than George Washington.
Here’s a bit of Hoosier trivia Mike Pence might know.
In the 1920s, Indiana was one of the largest and most politically powerful Klan strongholds outside the South, and in Indiana the Klan was Republican.
I’m not saying Mike Pence is a member of the Klan. Not implying it either. No apophasis intended. The Klan’s heyday in Indiana was decades ago. But through Trump Pence is now associated with the Klan and he ought to be strenuous in disassociating himself instead of complaining of Twitter about Dishonest Hillary’s associating herself with Honest Abe. The real point however, is that it’s been a very long time since the Republican Party was truly the Party of Lincoln.
If it still was, though, I don’t think Mike Pence would be bragging of his association with it.
And I don’t think Republicans would be flattered by his association with them.
Even though they were Southerners, the Lincolns---Thomas, Abraham’s difficult and distant father, and Sarah, his loving, protective, and intellectually nurturing step-mother---were anti-slavery. They called themselves “Emancipationists” and it was a religious principle with them. They were stalwarts of an Emancipationist church. Abraham Lincoln was raised to hate slavery as an offense to God. He wasn’t particularly religious as an adult. Some called him an infidel. Called himself that sometimes. May have cost him more votes in some precincts in the elections he ran in than his anti-slavery views. But the conviction that slavery was immoral stuck with him as the central tenet of what was left of his personal faith. Later in life, when he was president, he wrote in a letter, “I am naturally anti-slavery[.] If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember a time when I did not so think and feel.” And as he wrote to Joshua Speed, how could he abhor the oppression of one class of people and be in favor of degrading any other? In the opening of the Gettsyburg Address---and surely even Mike Pence can quote this part---“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”---when he said all men, he meant all, and in the phrase that concludes the address---“government of the people, by the people, for the people”---the people were WE the People, all of us.
That’s become our private and public positions as people and as a nation, that we are a WE. And it’s only in seeing ourselves that way, as all of us belonging to the same WE, that we’re all members of the Party of Lincoln.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin and A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Volume I 1809-1849 by Sidney Blumenthal are available at Amazon.
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