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Crank Call


Published April 27, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

"There is something in the wind abroad in this land besides the vapors of spring."

-- Jim Kunstler

He's right, and I'll tell you what it is: a citizenry that knows nothing about history. I'm moved to say this not just from conviction, but because George W. Bush turned up last week at the opening of the new, high-tech, holographic, pornographic, Disney-style "Lincoln Museum" in Springfield, Illinois. There, Ding-Dong delivered a few remarks.

"I am so honored to be here," he said, "to dedicate a great institution honoring such a great American. Laura and I were just given a tour."

Imagine that! While you're at it, imagine Universal Studios' "Island of Adventure" in Orlando. Throw in a couple of spooky Lincoln faces, a lot of guns going off at Antietam, John Wilkes Booth jumping down from the assassination scene, and there you have it -- History Lite. A cheaper show couldn't exist outside Crawford, Texas.

Better people than I last week -- provided they could wade through all those stories about the pope and TV docudramas pretending that "American voters never knew" Franklin Roosevelt had had polio (they did, very well) -- tried to balance Bush's brain with Lincoln's. I refer especially to David Rossie's piece in The Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, which pled for Americans to wake up and see how they've been duped. David had only to quote the respective Commanders-in-chief:

Lincoln (1858): "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy."

Bush (2003): "I had the opportunity to go out to Goree Island [on the west coast of Africa, in what is now Senegal] and talk about what slavery meant to America. It's very interesting when you think about it. The slaves who left here to go to America, because of their steadfast [sic] and their religion and their belief in freedom, helped change America."

OK. "Most of you all know," as Bush continued in Springfield, that "the First Lady was a librarian. Any time she can get me into a library is a pretty good deal, as far as she's concerned."

That Goofus was in a museum, not a library, when he said this, is a distinction I'm willing to overlook. That he doesn't know the difference, when he compares himself to Abraham Lincoln, is a distinction I cannot overlook. Especially when he throws the burden on the First Lady, the kind of librarian who used to recite The Runaway Bunny during "Children's Week." If she were a real librarian, she'd see through this farce.

"[Lincoln's] very election as president was regarded as a cause for war," Dubya stumbled on. "And as he sent legions of men to death and sacrifice, his own burden began to show in a lined and tired face."

Leave it to Ding-Dong to render the whole thing a matter of cosmetics. And leave it to him, also, to know nothing about Lincoln, who declared as he sent "men to death and sacrifice" during the Civil War that his head was "low and bent"; that no pride could accrue to it; and that his only goal was to preserve the Union. Not the "Republicans" or the "Democrats" or the slaves or anyone else, but the Union. Later, in the Second Inaugural Address of 1865, Lincoln hoped that "the better angels of our nature" would win the day. And when he said that, he wasn't talking about "God."

"Mr. Lincoln had no faith and no hope in the usual acceptation of those words," said Mary Lincoln after her husband's death. "He never joined a church; but still, as I believe, he was a religious man by nature. He first seemed to think about the subject when our boy Willie died, and then more than ever about the time he went to Gettysburg; but it was a kind of poetry in his nature, and he was never a technical Christian."

Uh-oh. Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney announced that as president of the Senate he would cast the decisive vote, if necessary, to further the Republican Party's goal of "ending the filibuster," the so-called "nuclear option." This in the interest of appointing "Christian" judges -- "people of faith" -- to the federal bench.

Any student of history knows that this effort is not about "faith." It's not about Christianity, either. It's a blatant attempt to destroy the constitutional separation of powers, and to put that power solely in the hands of the executive, the "president." Who is, of course, a figurehead. And this one is no Lincoln.

In 1862, Mary Lincoln heard that one of her brothers, fighting on the Confederate side, had been killed in battle. Elizabeth Keckley, her best friend and a black woman, broke the news to her and wondered why she was not devastated. "Of course," Mary said, "it is but natural that I should feel for one so nearly related to me, but not to the extent that you suppose. He made his choice long ago ... He has been fighting against us; and since he chose to be our deadly enemy, I see no special reason why I should bitterly mourn his death."

I don't know where to turn from this. I wish I could be more hopeful, but I can't.

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