Every red blooded American knows the importance and achievements of Abraham Lincoln. We grew up listening to his heroic leadership during the dark times of our nation and the resulting steps towards a more equal and harmonious society. But somehow the true greatness of the man was always taken for granted by me. It’s just something that people easily agree to. "Yeah, yeah, he was great." But what made him such a remarkable man?
There have been countless biographies and retelling of Lincoln’s life so it’s hard to view him with any clarity. We all know about the Civil War. The Gettysburg Address. The assassination. What’s new to ponder over?
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals strives to shed new light on the President by exploring the men around Lincoln and their perspectives on him. What’s amazing is that the people Lincoln appointed to his cabinet were the men that ran against him for office. It reveals how they all disregarded him as some country hick and eventually acquired a deep respect for who he really was.
"When Lincoln won the nomination, each of his celebrated rivals believed the wrong man had been chosen... That Lincoln, after winning the presidency, made the unprecedented decision to incorporate his eminent rivals into his political family, the cabinet, was evidence of a profound self-confidence and a first indication of what would prove to others a most unexpected greatness... Every member of this administration was better known, better educated, and more experienced in public life than Lincoln. Their presence in the cabinet might have threatened to eclipse the obscure prairie lawyer from Springfield."
The book intrigued me because it’s easy to draw comparisons to our current President. I can see the parallels and the divergence of the two men who are needed to lead this nation. We’re in a time of war, deeply divided, and have a man in the Oval Office that many shrug off as an unqualified countryboy. Still, while I’m sure many people during the Civil War were afraid and uncertain of what might come, I have a feeling that more than a few could take heart in the fact that there was a good man to guide the country. I wish I could say the same for our current state of affairs.
Like Lincoln, Bush relies on his easy-going Southern manner to disarm people and make his point. But unlike Lincoln, Bush fails to impart a sense of intelligence disguised under the facade. Bush refers to "liberty" and "justice" often in his speeches, but those words sound more hollow than virtuous when he speaks them. Lincoln was reknown for his powerful and moving speeches. Analyzers often talk about how gifted speakers like Kennedy can accurately hit the right stress points of a sentence to convey the meaning and how Bush often misses those marks.
Lincoln made a bold move by surrounding himself with his rivals, men who contemptuously believed they were better than he. He wasn’t afraid of them. And he wasn’t afraid of sharing the power with them. So what of Bush? Has he opened himself up to a forum of perspectives to help him find the best way to lead the country? After returning for a second term, Powell, the only one in his cabinet that seemed to dissent from Bush’s policies, stepped down. Consequently, Bush plugged the vacancies with the trusted and loyal. Yes, that probably streamlines the process a bit, but is it better for our country?
During the country’s various wars, the nation has had the benefit of great leadership at times. Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt. But there have also been the Wilsons and Nixons that have failed to unite and guide the country in those times. Where will Bush stand in a historical perspective? And if he’s not the one to do it, will there be a Lincoln, Washington or Roosevelt ready to take the mantle?
Sorry to sound so anti-Bush, but it wasn’t always this way. I didn’t know enough about him when he first gained office so was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now, rediscovering the actions of a far greater man serves to accentuate how Bush seems like just a spoiled child. Lincoln assumed the mantle of power with a respect and gravitas for what it meant, and I sense nothing of the sort from G.W. People are waiting for the next chance to get a new guy in the Oval Office. I guess I can be counted among those who are ready for change. More than that, I’m ready for a leader who has my respect.