Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
Listen to Lincoln
There is a discredited biological theory - "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" - that suggests that the stages that occur in one's personal life follow the path of species evolution. Although there isn't a valid scientific basis for the theory, it does have application to the basic thesis in Rich Lowry's well-researched and artfully crafted new book, Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream - And How We Can Do It Again.
Abraham Lincoln's personal life evolved from a hardscrabble existence with dim prospects for the future into the presidency. In Lincoln's youth, the nation was recovering from a humiliating defeat in the War of 1812 that left the capital in ruins and the nation deeply in debt. But a vision of a capitalist empire was about to emerge, a vision that would transport a poor nation of farmers into an industrial behemoth.
Lincoln didn't romanticize his background, as many historians have done. He didn't want to be poor; he wanted respectability, and he had a plan to achieve that goal based on work, self-improvement, and character. To the chagrin of employers, and even his father, he read whenever he had a free moment, teaching himself geometry and trigonometry, grammar, and, ultimately, law. Lincoln was the embodiment of ambition, often arguing that a healthy person should either take advantage of the opportunities available to him or create those opportunities. This was Horatio Alger before Alger wrote his first novel. Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon, described Lincoln's ambition as "a little engine that knew no rest."
Historical bodysnatchers like Mario Cuomo have converted Lincoln into a Big Government redistributionist. But this is far from the real Lincoln. He was a Whig who believed there was a place for government in mobilizing national energies to inspire prosperity. He admired Henry Clay, who championed the "American system" - banks, tariffs, and infrastructure - in order to protect infant industries, provide sound credit for investors, and energize the potential strength of the economy. But more than anything else, Lincoln believed in personal willpower to improve one's self. Free-market purists might reject some of his achievements, such as the Homestead Act and the creation of land-grant colleges, but for Lincoln these were ideas designed to unleash personal steadfastness. Without realizing it, Lincoln was a follower of Edmund Burke, seeking order through individual liberty. He had an undeviating faith in the generative capacities of mankind.
Lincoln's destiny was inextricably tied to the nation's. In helping to make free men prosperous, he would, in turn, make the nation prosperous. He made this argument in his brief against slavery: The "peculiar institution" would resist the heroic extension of human potential that was America's destiny. And his "House Divided" speech ("A house divided against itself cannot stand") recognized the irrepressible conflict between two visions: the South, traditional and agrarian, and the North, industrial and expansive.
For Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence laid the foundation for liberal capitalism. It made the case for human dignity and, more important, for a system that would encourage human potential. He was deeply moral, believing that there was a clear distinction between right and wrong, but he wasn't a moralist. He was as critical of Thaddeus Stevens and the radical Republicans who insisted on immediate abolition as he was of Jefferson Davis, who fought to retain institutionalized slavery. Above all, Lincoln considered himself a Constitutionalist - notwithstanding his suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War.
Rich Lowry asks, "What would Lincoln do today?" Crossing the divide of a century-and-a-half isn't simple mathematics; this is pure speculation, and you have to admire Lowry's standing up to the challenge. Surely there is much that Lincoln couldn't have imagined. Yet it is also true that his vision for mankind set the stage for the most prosperous epoch in human history. Lowry notes that Lincoln would probably disapprove of "taking money from some people and giving it to others," since the idea of an able-bodied adult living off the labor of others was anathema to him. Similarly, Lincoln would reject class conflict since he believed that "property is desirable." Lowry doesn't mention it, but Lincoln undoubtedly would have been appalled by President Obama's famous rebuke to business owners: "You didn't build that."
"The [Republican] party would be well served to heed the lessons of Lincoln's tone and of his statesmanship," writes Lowry. In 1861, Lincoln told Congress, "The struggle of today is not altogether for today - it is for a vast future also." Can the American Dream be salvaged? Rich Lowry gives us evidence that, despite our seeming decline, Abraham Lincoln's example offers a road to redemption and revitalization.
Raising the Flag at Ground Zero
There was a moment after 9/11 when almost all Americans realized what could be lost to an enemy intent on destroying our people and our institutions. As time has passed, so too has much of this sentiment. Americans may be patriotic, but patriotism is generally not in the forefront of their thinking. There are, however, some Americans who consider any form of patriotic expression jingoism or misguided public sentiment.
One recent example comes to mind. The spokesmen for the 9/11 Memorial Museum have been trying to subdue American patriotism and resilience after the 2001 terrorist attack. According to a recent report, officials at the museum tried to bury the by now famous photograph of three firemen raising the stars and stripes over the rubble at Ground Zero. The reason given is that it is too "rah-rah America."
A recently published book quotes the museum's creative director as saying he prefers material that is not "so vigilantly" and "vehemently" American. Instead of featuring the photo of the "firemen and the flag" he insists on three other photos that "undercut the myth of 'one iconic moment.'"
As I see it, this is yet another moment when the agnostics about American institutions express their skepticism. Frankly, there isn't anything about which to be skeptical. American institutions have their flaws admittedly, but they are still the most resilient ever created. What is evident is that terrorists thought of the Twin Towers as an American symbol. It embodied in bricks and mortar: freedom, liberty and triumph.
It would seem that officials at the museum succumbed to the hordes of politically correct supporters. And it is not the first time. The International Freedom Center was removed from Ground Zero after an attempt was made to put the 9/11 attack into a "broad context," i.e. a potential anti-U.S. debate on "the meaning of freedom." Of course, U.S. detractors are relentless; the campaign against "the firefighters and flag" photo is merely the next chapter in a continuing campaign. If the firefighter photo is "too simple," as the creative director noted, it is really too direct, too accessible, too patriotic. (All the "toos" being valuable amplification.)
For those intent on complicating an attack that killed 3,000 Americans, there cannot be sympathy. There isn't an explanation that can whitewash the destruction by haters of the U.S. motivated by an extreme Muslim ideology and their distaste of everything for which America stands.
Symbols do matter. It is unfortunate that museum officials do not seem to understand that contention. They are seemingly caught in the web of left wing ideological bias that contends the U.S. is wrong or partially wrong or largely responsible for attacks launched against it.
When Americans choose to wave their flag as a sign of belief in the nation, detractors contend that is "rah-rah," with the flag representing tocsin sounding in the air. How sad that the officials given the authority to determine the policy of this Ground Zero museum could be so myopic, and so driven, apparently, by their ideological views.
The Radical Agenda for America
Over the last thirty years (nothing precise about this time frame) radicals in the United States have worked tirelessly and relentlessly to change this society in a manner consistent with their own agenda. The method for doing so is not secret. In fact, it is transparently clear.
The first goal is to create an electoral map that will guarantee the election of left-wing presidents. To accomplish this goal one state in particular has to change from red to blue: Texas. On its face, this project seems impossible. Texas, as Governor Perry has noted, is crimson red and "will stay that way." But suppose the electorate expands by registering new voters, particularly illegals who could be granted amnesty through recent immigration proposals, and unregistered voters.
As Senator Ted Cruz has noted, "If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House." Conservative spokeswoman, Anita Moncrief, contends, "If they go for amnesty, we will find ourselves doing a post mortem over the GOP's suicide." Should Texas become a reliable blue state, its 38 electoral votes will virtually guarantee a Democratic president into the distant future.
The second goal is to develop dependency on government assistance for a majority of Americans. With close to 50 million people on food stamps, 45 million on Medicaid, 35 million in Section 8 Housing, and 52 million receiving welfare assistance, an America that was once based on self-reliance and personal liberty is disappearing in plain sight. This dependency comes with the potential for enslavement since one will need Big Brother for the very essentials of life.
The third goal is the reformulation of American voting trends through the mobilization of minority voters. It is instructive that in the 2012 election President Obama obtained support from only 39 percent of white voters, less than former Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis received in 1988, a year when he was trounced by George Herbert Walker Bush.
President Obama won by carrying 93 percent of African American voters, 71 percent of Latino voters, and 73 percent of Asian voters. Here is the new formulation of presidential victory - appeal to minorities through a divide and conquer strategy. Moreover, this is merely the beginning. By mid-century, whites in the U.S. will be a distinct minority. Presumably, minority opinion and attitudes could shift. The nation has a history of electoral movements in unpredictable directions. At the moment, however, history appears to be moving in a leftward direction with little change in sight.
Of course only time will tell if this radical strategy will work. "The eyes of Texas are upon you" goes the popular verse, but it would be just as apt to say "the eyes of America should be on Texas." This is America's electoral weathervane.
Should the radical tactics yield a victory in that state, any hope of retaining the traditions associated with America's democratic republic will be lost. It is remarkable that conservatives do not get it. They are in a wilderness of false hope and gnashing of teeth as the radical blunderbuss flares forward. Wake up America - your future is at stake.
Decline, Decline, Decline
The president of the United States has lied on every important issue of the day, from the targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS to the murder of those serving the country in Benghazi.
Blockbuster films are visual comic books with Marvel the cultural equivalent of Henry James.
Members of the press corps are now part of the Democratic Party, offering no real critique of the president or the Senate.
Taxes and regulations militate against the generation of wealth.
A nation once known for its innovation, now relies on foreign entities for new ideas since the education system is failing America.
The unfunded liability in the United States is equivalent to all the wealth in the world.
U.S. population has grown fat and soft as the increase in obesity and adult diabetes would suggest.
Rap music personalities who degrade women in their music are part of the cultural elite in the United States.
Television fare pushes the envelope of extremism with ever more explicit sexual acts on screen.
Many college graduates cannot identify the decade in the 19th century when the Civil War was fought.
Muslims are seemingly immune to criticism since a hostile response is likely, but every other religion is fair game.
Gitmo, a prison holding known terrorists, spends $800,000 a year for each and every prisoner.
The best selling book of 2013 deals with sadomasochism.
A Boston Patriots football star is accused of serial murders soon after signing a multi-year $40 million contract.
Edward Snowden is accused of stealing secrets from the NSA and is charged with treason, but the president refuses to prevail on Russia to extradite him.
The Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act giving same-sex marriage equal status with heterosexual marriages.
Arab protests throughout North Africa were unanticipated by the U.S. State Department.
An inability of the U.S. to develop a strategy for Syria has left the government in a catch-up position with rebel forces.
The Obama administration believes the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderating influence in the Arab world.
Attenuated delays and an unwillingness to entertain seriously the development of nuclear weapons in Iran means the Persian mullahs will soon have weapons of mass destruction.
The systematic reduction of our naval fleet means, in effect, that the U.S. cannot protect its interests and allies in the Taiwan Straits, the South China Sea, or the Sea of Japan.
Federal Reserve easing along with the fiscal deficit will at some point result in an inflationary tsunami.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has led to a temporary political vacuum that is likely to be filled by the Taliban.
Seventy-two percent of Afro-American children are born out-of-wedlock.
The "Leave It To Beaver" family is gone, a distant memory of an earlier period.
The best selling history text in the nation is Howard Zinn's A People's History of The United States, which is a contentious view of competing interests in our national past.
American students came in next to last on the OECD science and math tests.
President Obama has exercised Executive Orders more than any other president.
The debt increased by $5 trillion over the last four years.
These are randomly selected facts and opinions that lead inextricably to one conclusion: national decline. I am not one of the declinists who believe in determinism, nor am I a tired old man who is going through a lamentation of "the way things used to be." But there is a theme and it is worrisome. America is not what it once was - the great colossus that strode the globe as a force to be emulated. The task before us is a recognition of the issues we face and an examination of manifold ways to address them. *