Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Today's the Birthday of the President Named for the Car?

Yeah, that's the spirit and that's who we named the guy after, that big, long barge of a car. Or maybe not. This used to be the day we honored the man who was President when a still young country had such a determined difference of opinion on something as fundamental as to whom the blessing of liberty was extended that the only way to settle is was by a conflict of arms.
Long before we rolled his birthday and that of George Washington into ONE holiday and renamed it, President's Day (to honor, among others, Millard Fillmore, the first US President to have a bath tub installed in he White House-considering Alexander Graham Bell was years away from inventing the telephone, how long do you suppose Fillmore could have settled in for a soak before the phone rang?) Lincoln was celebrated as a person who had made a difference in his time and whose shadow was cast through our own lives. Now, he's part of a three day weekend and we're having a White Sale (gotta love the irony!), c'mon down!

Don't get me wrong-based on what I've read of that time, early Industrial Revolution, we had "the North" cashing in on the new technologies and "the South" mostly agrarian. As such, slavery wasn't just human rights, it was economics. Few growers could remain solvent or (phrase from another generation, 'economically viable') if they had to pay people to work as manual labor (not that the Northern industrialists were setting benchmarks for humane working conditions and remuneration in their factories. If you're looking for the beginnings of the world labor movement, look to the earliest days of the industrial revolution. Sowing the seeds of love, indeed. Nothing happens in a vacuum, unless your name is Dyson and then everything does, I suppose.).

Yes, there were a huge number of issues bound up in something as simple and stark as 'slavery' but that's the headline, the casus bellum. Dispassionate historians and anthropologists agree, slavery wasn't an invention of the New World, but an extension of a practice stretching back thousand of years across the entire world. I don't think you see it among any other species on this Earth, but we homo sapiens, given the opportunity to lord it over one another, do so in as brutal a manner as possible. Scrape off that thin veneer of civilization and there we are: our own worst nightmare. Perhaps we in the USA still have not yet fully faced up to what was done by some to others and so instead of confronting and resolving, we continue to equivocate and rationalize. How's that working out where you live? The days of life needing nothing more than a mule and forty acres are long gone (if they ever were), but for some of us, those days never got here.

And in 1860, after decades of compromise and accommodation over a dozen issues that always came back to the idea of freedom vs. slavery, Abraham Lincoln, failed Congressman, failed candidate in 1858 for US Senate from Illinois, look up the Lincoln-Douglas debates if you despair about our democracy and be of good hope, campaigned as the candidate of the fledgling Republican Party and was elected to the office of the Presidency of the United States. And, practically as he was inaugurated, the United States of America already philosophically and economically divided, took up arms against itself and disintegrated.

It's curious, to me, that we would call the War Between the States (its official name, btw) the "Civil War" since, historians agree it was often anything but. With other nations picking sides to advance their own agenda, the two sides, bloodied and bedraggled, fought one another from 1861 through the spring of 1865, when the Confederate States of America, prostrate and exhausted, surrendered and, say some, Modern America began. What we are now is what we were then. Provided an opportunity to begin again with 'malice towards none and charity to all' as outlined by the soon to be murdered reelected Lincoln, instead, as a nation, we veered from that path and continued to settle old scores and create new wounds through the latter half of the 19th, all of the 20th and, now, into the 21st century.

One hundred and forty eight years on, we are on the eve of another Presidential election but from the rhetoric that's floated for the last few months, and will continue to and through November's actual vote, you have to wonder if we've forgotten where we came from and how we got here.
Members of one political party hurl epithets and invective at their opponents, some of whom may be in the same political party. "The Big Tent" and inclusiveness be damned-it's the triumph of the 'Love me and love my dog' mindset. We cannot disagree without becoming disagreeable and when the day ends no one, wins. It's the death of dialogue and debate and a dearth of civility and kindness. The US Presidential elections have become the Greatest Show on Earth, sorry Ringling Bros., and there's just enough time to clean up after the elephants and the donkeys in the center ring, before we open the tent flaps and let the next crowd in for a show.

Didja find a good parking spot? We got valet service for the high end cars, like the Beemers, Benzs, Caddies, Lexus and (of course!) the Lincolns-lemme get somebody to take your keys. No scratches, I promise.
-bill kenny

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