In defense of the Gettysburg Address

I didn’t anticipate that I would ever write a defense of one of the greatest speeches in American history… until I took a look at this Politico Magazine piece.

A note: this piece is written by Chuck Thompson an editor of NOT the sportscaster Chuck Thompson (of “ain’t the beer cold” fame). Now let’s commence with the snide comments.

Four score and 70 years ago, America’s Great Emancipator delivered the most famous speech ever made by a U.S. president. Universally regarded as a triumph of genius and brevity, Abraham Lincoln’s stirring Gettysburg call for national reconciliation in the midst of the Civil War was a 272-word masterstroke of empathy, statesmanship and diplomacy.

I guess the best part of penning a piece like this is that you don’t have to come up with an original lede. It’s trite.

It was also a missed opportunity.

The speech remains eternally inspiring for the way Lincoln refrained from laying explicit blame at the feet of an enemy so embittered to the cause upon which he’d staked his life (literally, as it would turn out) that it had eagerly thrown itself into its own fight to the death.

Lincoln sidestepped all that rage. And in so doing, he sidestepped the lessons of Gettysburg, thereby failing to predict—or prevent—the ways in which they were fated to play out over the next century and a half.

Now we get the the trolling! I would argue that the US bounced back from the Civil War better than anyone could have hoped for. From fledging nation to super power — and the argument that some other 300 word speech (or really a speech at any length) could have fixed all the problems in the years to come is ludicrous.

The game of division practiced by conservative reactionaries today—mostly southern, though the obstructionist contagion has spread to all 50 states—is the same as the fathomlessly fraudulent politics that split the country in 1861. Think the Dixie-fried Tea Party and health care fight represent something new?

Who has been arguing that the Tea Party is new? Thompson is creating a straw man that doesn’t exist (or at least doesn’t exist in very many educated circles).

The impulse behind them is the same one that gave us Jim Crow, brought the National Guard to Little Rock High School and led Hank Williams, Jr. to record, “If the South woulda won, we woulda had it made.”

Little confused here, what is Hank Williams Jr. supposed to represent here? Did I miss the news story of him getting elected to something (it’s possible, I’m really far into this Rob Ford saga). If not (and I suspect that the accidental racist isn’t going to government), then what is this supposed to mean? Is the argument that because some people have listened to this song they agree with the message? By listening to the music you are not providing a political endorsement.

Nearly two years of fighting after the calamity of Gettysburg proved exactly what two-plus years of battle over Obamacare does: This is a tribe incapable of accepting compromise or conciliation.

This is a mistake a lot of people make … it’s called vast generalization. The whole south is one tribe? Don’t bother proving that — just throw this shit against the wall, it’ll probably stick.

Could you grab some poll numbers that show that the whole “tribe” or even a vast majority of them support this opinion?

According to a 2010 New York Times/CBS poll only 18% of people identified with the Tea Party. I suspect that the numbers have shrunk, since 2010 was around the height of the movement. New York Times and CBS didn’t provide the cross-tab numbers but even if most of those people are in the south (and I would bet that they are) it wouldn’t constitute the voice of the whole “tribe.”

As a Confederate flag supporter in Georgia told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2004 after his side lost a referendum to keep the Confederate battle flag as part of the official state flag: “We will keep our anger alive. We shall be grim and unconvinced and wear bitterness like a medal.”

Why is this quote here? You just took a quote from some random anonymous Confederate flag supporter FROM ALMOST A DECADE AGO!!! WTF.

As a result, the South no longer sends politicians to Washington. It sends blinkered warriors whose job is to represent the unbending naysayer impulse inscribed on a certain type of southern martyr from cradle to tailgater to grave.

This is just a stupid blanket generalization (I know, that’s redundant… go with me). Thompson should realize how partisan districts are, most states don’t send just Tea Partyers or even just Republicans to Congress — it’s a mix.

Also, “from cradle to tailgater to grave” is this a shot at tailgating? I just looked into Thompson’s SEC takedown — it’s ridiculous and I’ve lost precious brain cells even reading it — I award him no points and no link.

Worse, no longer are southern pols even the seditious but gifted white-maned officer orators of the Senator Claghorn days. At least those guys had style. Nowadays, the South consigns to Washington mere foot soldiers whose Men’s Wearhouse political dexterity renders most congressional debate as erudite and elegant as an employee smoke break in the parking lot behind the Waffle House.

Really? The fact that they aren’t stylish is worse? Come. On. Back to the point of the story: what words could Lincoln have said that would have stopped this from happening 150 years later?

Because it has long passed into the etched-in-granite annals of national legend, Americans have completely lost sight of the single most important fact about the Civil War—that it absolutely, positively, in no way had to happen. The Civil War should have been as easy to talk yourself out of as your annual colonoscopy.

This is an awful metaphor but let’s keep reading.

Walk past the granite obelisk dedicated to Confederate soldiery in Abbeville’s historic town square, and you likely wouldn’t notice anything special. The gray monument looks like any of countless similar statuary in the centers of cities and towns throughout the South.

Take the trouble to read the carved inscriptions, however, and along with the usual odes to the bravery and valor of the Confederacy’s battle dead, you’ll find this blatantly seditious declaration: “The world shall yet decide, in truth’s clear far-off light, that the soldiers who wore the gray and died with Lee were right.”

Not that the soldiers were patriotic. Or courageous. Or true to some ill-begotten sense of duty.

They were right.

Look, it’s not breaking news that these monuments are around and these messages haven’t been removed, but of the 25,000 people in that county how many would know what’s written on that inscription? 1,000? 5,000? You see, this is America … people barely read headlines, let alone inscriptions on monuments — and even if they do they may not (gasp) agree with them.

Southern “traditions” of inflexibility and sabotage have hobbled American political progress across four centuries. One wonders what Lincoln would have made of a country, 150 years after his landmark call for renewal, still allowing itself to be held captive by a political race whose most powerful views, emotions and ideas lurk forever behind them.

Ugh, I wish Politico didn’t publish crap like this. I wish I didn’t read the stupid crap and (in essence) “feed the trolls.” What Politico/Thompson are doing is very similar to the trolls on comment sections and message boards. Noted: I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. So I guess Thompson and Politico got the job done, they got their page views/uniques and can keep the lights on/the bills paid — maybe (someday) they can try to do some smart analysis (I think that could also pay the bills).

Thanks for slogging through that rant… as a reward here is a rendition of the National anthem from someone you might recognize.


~ by realfactsandbeer on November 19, 2013.

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