Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On North and South, Abe Lincoln and Politics

I may have mentioned that I'm reading Doris Kearns-Goodwin's book on the Lincoln presidency, Team of Rivals. I like the way she writes and this happens to be a period in American history of which I know virtually nothing.

Since I am enjoying it so much, I thought I would bore you, my friends, with a few tidbits.

This is the description of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, which were legendary:
Each debate followed the same rules. The first contestant spoke for an hour, followed by a one-and-a-half-hour response, after which the man who had gone first would deliver a half-hour rebuttal. The huge crowds were riveted for the full three hours, often interjecting comments, cheering for their champion, bemoaning the jabs of his opponent. Newspaper steonographers worked diligently to take down every word, and their transcripts were swiftly dispatched throughout the country. (p.201)
Hard to imagine in modern times.

Think Bush-Gore. Think Bush-Kerry. Think McCain-Obama.

Now, after the U.S. election of 2000, I used to joke about how the South had finally gotten over the Lincoln presidency and the Civil War and brought themselves to vote Republican. As I read this book, I am appreciating it even more. It's mind-bending to think of the evolution of the two main political parties over the past 150 years. The Republicans were the progressives. They were liberal. They were spend-thrifts. They were interested in public works and infrastructure. The Democrats were the Southerners, they wanted slavery to continue into the new territories and states. They did not want to be taxed for infrastructure or public works (being set up primarily in the North).

And did I mention that Lincoln had a pretty flimsy resume when he became the presidential nominee for the Republican party in 1860? He had been an attorney, a legislator in the Illinois House and once in the US House, and he lost two Senate races. No executive experience. Turned out that wasn't very important, I guess.

Makes you wonder where we'll be in 150 years. How Obama will be seen. What the political parties will be like. And their platforms.

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