…We too will have our own Lincoln, or Lincolns, and there is good reason to believe that ours will be as partial as anyone else’s. But we should not be content with such easy relativism. Out of respect to the man, we should at least try to recover a sense of both the grandeur and the contingency of the history that he lived through, and helped to shape. To see a statesman in full, and thereby learn something about the nature of statesmanship, one needs to see him not only in the overly clear light of retrospection, but in the shadowy and inconclusive light of the conditions he faced as they were unfolding. “I claim not to have controlled events,” Lincoln mused during the course of his presidency, “but confess plainly that events have controlled me”…
…Obama is using Lincoln and his vision as a rebuttal to the “knee-jerk disdain for government” which the Republican Party has kept as its mantra since Reagan. In essence he is questioning its legitimacy as a Republican perspective, and arguing that Democrats and Republicans should find common ground in the values of the Lincoln presidency. It’s an intriguing gambit, and the historical elements are appealing. But the basic question remains: does the Republican Party of today really have anything to do with Abraham Lincoln? Has it not in fact become the party of the neo-Confederates for whom his very image is hateful? That, certainly, is what this week’s worth of Washington reality suggests.
…The Stanford economist Paul Romer famously said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” The United States, whatever its flaws, has seldom wasted its crises in the past. On the contrary, it has used them, time and again, to reinvent itself, clearing away the old and making way for the new. Throughout U.S. history, adaptability has been perhaps the best and most quintessential of American attributes. Over the course of the 19th century’s Long Depression, the country remade itself from an agricultural power into an industrial one. After the Great Depression, it discovered a new way of living, working, and producing, which contributed to an unprecedented period of mass prosperity. At critical moments, Americans have always looked forward, not back, and surprised the world with our resilience. Can we do it again?
…There are problems with the observed link between genes and politics. One is that it is fairly crude so far. Liberals and conservatives come in many varieties: one can be an economic liberal and a social conservative, say, favoring a large state but opposing abortion; or an economic conservative and a social liberal, favoring the free market but supporting abortion and gay rights. If we add attitudes about foreign policy to the mix, the combinations double. Most tests used in genetic studies of political views do not allow us to make these important distinctions. As a result, though we know that genes affect ideology, that knowledge is clumsy. In time, I suspect, we will learn more about these subtleties….