Hedgehog beats the fox every time

British political philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously contrasted the hedgehog, who does one big thing, and the fox, who does many things. This was a particularly apt metaphor for Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, as the former sought to win the Cold War and revitalize American commerce and the latter despaired of Americans’ "malaise" just as the long Iranian hostage crisis began to undermine his presidency. Reagan was under considerable pressure from his strongest supporters to solve a host of long-festering problems and certainly Reagan never lacked convictions for confronting them. But he was convinced that national security and world peace demanded his greatest efforts, which culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Empire. He built up our armed forces and thereby negotiated from strength with our less capable communist adversary.

No less demanding was the need to encourage vitality in our stagnant commerce, buffeted by decreasing purchasing power and increasing unemployment, with cuts in income tax rates. Unfortunately, we are currently in the beginnings of a resurgence of big government that we gained some relief from a quarter century ago.

Berlin was mindful of other statesmen of a similar single-minded determination. His countryman, Winston Churchill, set out to save Great Britain from defeat to a Nazi tyranny which had already conquered most of Europe, and ultimately helped save Western Civilization from collapse.

Such is statesmanship. Is George Washington remembered by anyone except historians for the positions he took on tariffs, excises or treaties? He devoted himself to winning independence from Great Britain, providing a national constitution and serving as the first president. A multitude of lesser problems survived him but so did the nation.

Our greatest national challenge came in 1861 when 11 states defied the results of a presidential election and its mandate for stopping the spread of slavery. Abraham Lincoln had hated slavery since childhood and gave it his single-minded attention when the Democratic party resolved to remove all obstacles to its movement into western territories previously closed to it.

Indeed, Lincoln was severely criticized for talking about virtually nothing else after passage of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed slavery in the old Louisiana Territory. His response was simply, "I’ll stop talking about it when everyone else stops talking about it."

Lincoln was not being perverse. Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois, author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, sought to end slavery agitation by removing the controversy from the halls of Congress and throwing it out to the western frontier to be resolved by the first few settlers in territories forming into new states. But his plan backfired as southerners wanted guarantees for slavery and anti-slavery northerners were outraged at a massive equivocation on this fundamental question.

Later, even historians were critical, not only of Lincoln, but also of Douglas, as the two senatorial candidates in 1858 debated slavery in the territories and practically nothing else. Again, tariffs, excises and treaties were ignored as these longtime rivals explored the political, constitutional, legal, social and moral aspects of slavery. How could they be so single-minded?

The answer is, both Lincoln and Douglas understood that, until fundamental principles are resolved, action on other issues not only would have to wait but no prudent solutions for them were possible. If slaves may be taken to new territories, might Congress revive the international slave trade? What principle can distinguish the one form of "commerce" from the other?

No act of statesmanship, no matter how great, can guarantee results forever. Democrats imposed segregation, something very much like slavery, in the Southern states for a century following its official extinction.

Fortunately, no American president after World War II squandered the ascendancy maintained for the Western world, although Carter seriously underestimated the Soviet threat, militarily and strategically. However, the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union opened the door to the long-dormant ambitions of Islamic extremists.

The quarter century of dynamic commerce generated when Reagan persuaded Congress to enact cuts in income tax rates was undermined by out-of-control credit in the federally subsidized housing market, which has corrupted all of finance, even as union contracts and retirement plans, public and private, have proved unsustainable.

Everything depends, then, as it so often does, on the character of the occupant of the Oval Office, for our Constitution designed the government for leadership in the various crises of human affairs. In this rich and powerful country, many things are going on but all pale in comparison to the requirements of the common defense and the general welfare.

Obama misrepresents Lincoln

We have grown accustomed to Barack Obama invoking the name and memory of Abaham Lincoln, this day of the 16th President's 200th birthday being no exception. But even in this brief news article, our current President manages to be so grossly wrong in his lessons and parallels that is almost laughable. Here it is:

Obama urges Americans to follow Lincoln's example

By BEN FELLER Associated Press Writer

Published: Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama called on citizens Thursday to follow Abraham Lincoln's example of showing generosity to political opponents and valuing national unity - above all else.

At a ceremony in the stately Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol marking the 16th president's 200th birthday, Obama said he felt "a special gratitude" to the historical giant, who in many ways made his own story possible. On Thursday night, Obama, the nation's first black president, will deliver the keynote address at the Abraham Lincoln Association's annual banquet in Springfield, Ill.

As lawmakers and guests looked on, Obama recalled Lincoln's words in the closing days of the Civil War, when the South's defeat was certain.

Lincoln "could have sought revenge," Obama said, but he insisted that no Confederate troops be punished.

"All Lincoln wanted was for Confederate troops to go back home and return to work on their farms and in their shops," Obama said. "That was the only way, Lincoln knew, to repair the rifts that had torn this country apart. It was the only way to begin the healing that our nation so desperately needed."

A day after House and Senate leaders agreed on a costly economic stimulus plan that drew scant Republican support, Obama said, "we are far less divided than in Lincoln's day," but "we are once again debating the critical issues of our time."

"Let us remember that we are doing so as servants to the same flag, as representatives of the same people, and as stakeholders in a common future," Obama said. "That is the most fitting tribute we can pay and the most lasting monument we can build to that most remarkable of men, Abraham Lincoln."

Surely Obama is correct to call attention to Lincoln's generosity following the Civil War, a powerful symbol indeed. But it is one thing to forgive rebels after they have been defeated following four long, bloody years of battle. It is something else to summon up such virtue when it is not called for. Is Obama forgiving Republicans for losing the election?  Should they be returning to their homes or more likely simply retreating in the face of the Democratic victory not only in November but even the predictable victory on the "stimulus" [re: Big Government] package flying through Congress? Is asking your political opponents, in other words, to roll over and play dead an example of Obama's magnaminity? Shouldn't that be reserved for graver situations than getting bills passed? We should be pleased, I suppose, that Obama and congressional Democrats aren't seeking revenge! (Although congressional committees are planning to hold hearings on possible Bush Administration "war crimes.")

As to the plea for unity, Obama is not even close. When Lincoln ran for President, nay, as he campaigned against the spread of slavery for six years prior following passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that permitted slavery to go into the Western Territory under the deceptive slogan of "popular sovereignty," he was hardly calling for unity but accepting the unavoidable consequence of hard and bitter division over the nation's most pressing issue. He was denounced for uttering the Biblical saying that "A house divided against itself cannot stand," which put the onus on pro-slavery Democrats for dividing the nation even as he knew that existing divisions would be exacerbated. It was the speech, as political philosopher Harry Jaffa has written, that changed the world, for it made clear that Lincoln was prepared to accept  "disunity," and even Civil War, to prevent slavery from being enshrined forever by the imperialist impulses of its apologists and advocates.

If Lincoln was denounced for recklessly dividing the nation, not to mention stirring up war, that was unfair, but it is even more unfair to misrepresent Lincoln when he knew that fighting for the equal rights of all under a central government able to exercise its constitutional authority after a free and fair election, was the right thing to do, even if it "divided" the country.

Doubtless Obama will not abandon the useful device of brow beating his opponents with the authority of Abraham Lincoln. Thus, we who know what Lincoln's statesmanship actually consisted of, should not hesitate to point out his errors. It is our turn to "speak truth to power."

Lincoln as exemplar for GOP today

If Republicans are serious about recovering constitutional government, it's hard to imagine how they would be successful without Lincoln. Editor: So writes Prof. Tom Krannawitter of Hillsdale College in an IBD opinion piece today. Amid a news cycle now measured in minutes, we need the perspective of the centuries to realize Lincoln's relevance for the momentous decisions of 2009. Here is the article in full:

Lincoln's Defense Of Constitution Is Moral For Today's Republicans By THOMAS KRANNAWITTER

This is the 200th birthday of the first Republican to win a national election, Abraham Lincoln. It is good for Republicans today to remember Lincoln, not to be antiquarians, but to learn from his principled defense of the Constitution.

By becoming students of Lincoln, Republicans can win elections and would deserve to win by helping America recover its constitutional source of strength and vitality.

The greatest political crisis America faces today is neither the recession nor Islamic terrorism; it's not health care, education, immigration or abortion. It is that the United States Constitution has become largely irrelevant to our politics and policies.

All three branches of government routinely ignore or twist the meaning of the Constitution, while many of our problems today are symptoms of policies that have no constitutional foundation.

If we are to recover the authority of the Constitution and the many ways it restrains and channels government power, someone or some party must offer a principled defense of the cause of constitutional government.

They must understand not only the Constitution, but also the principles that informed its original purposes and aspirations, principles found in the Declaration of Independence among other places.

No one understood that better than Lincoln.

Employing a biblical metaphor, Lincoln once described the leading principle of the Declaration of Independence — equal natural rights — as "the word fitly spoken which has proved an apple of gold to us," while the Constitution stands as "the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it.

"The picture," Lincoln argued, "was made not to conceal or destroy the apple, but to adorn and preserve it."

Lincoln's right. The declaration's assertion that legitimate governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed" because "all men are created equal" is precisely why "We the people" are authorized to "ordain and establish this Constitution."

Further, the Constitution limits the power of government because, as the declaration makes clear, the purpose of government is limited to securing the God-given, not government-granted, rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And a government of limited purpose should be one of limited power.

The Constitution, however, has suffered two nearly fatal criticisms: It's old and it's racist.

The former was launched by "progressive" thinkers more than a century ago and backed up by sophisticated theories of social and political evolution. Woodrow Wilson, for example, once compared the Constitution to "political witchcraft."

The charge of racism, mainly due to the Constitution's accommodations for slavery, found its loudest voice during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and following decades. Justice Thurgood Marshall voiced this critique in a 1987 Bicentennial essay when he refused to celebrate the original Constitution of 1787 because, he alleged, it was racist and therefore immoral.

The progressive and civil rights critiques have given us a century of New Freedom politics, New Deal politics, Great Society politics, Third Way politics, Compassionate Conservatism politics and now Responsible politics.

What we need, however, is a revival of constitutional politics. But the Constitution cannot be defended against these powerful criticisms unless someone can demonstrate that the Constitution incorporates principles that are both timeless and good.

And any such defense must confront two stubborn facts: The Constitution was indeed written long ago, and it did offer certain protections for slavery.

It was Lincoln's purpose to remind all Americans, white and black, that political freedom rests on an "abstract truth applicable to all men and all times."

That "abstract truth" is the principle of equal natural rights, a principle that cuts across time and space and is, contrary to progressive opinion, valid always and everywhere.

Regarding slavery, Lincoln explained that a constitutional regime dedicated to the declaration's principle of equality is a regime where slavery must be "placed in the course of ultimate extinction."

"If we do this," Lincoln said rightly, "we shall not only have saved the (constitutional) Union. . . . We shall have so saved it as to make and keep it forever worthy of the saving."

At Gettysburg's cemetery, as he struggled mightily to save the Constitution, Lincoln rededicated America to its original noble purpose in one of the most beautiful speeches of all time.

Lincoln understood that slavery did not make America unique. America's uniqueness is being the first constitutional government built on a foundation of equality and the terrible price America paid for ridding itself of slavery.

Lincoln's constitutionalism, I believe, is the only effective rebuttal to progressive and civil rights criticisms. Thus if Republicans are serious about recovering constitutional government, it's hard to imagine how they would be successful without Lincoln.

With Lincoln, it's hard to imagine how they would fail.

Krannawitter teaches political science at Hillsdale College in Michigan and is author of "Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of Our Greatest President." This article appeared in the Investor's Business Daily on 2/12/09.

Abraham Lincoln truly was a great man

In his famous Lyceum Speech in 1839, Abraham Lincoln expressed his hope that George Washington would always be revered. Little did Lincoln know that he too would be revered and that more would be written about him than anyone except Jesus Christ. Lincoln’s fame is deserved. He did not run for President simply to hold the office. Rather, he sought the office in order to deal with the nation’s greatest crisis. When the Civil War ended, the nation finally ended slavery, the institution that massively contradicted our nation’s principles.

Not only that, the end of slavery invigorated commerce and caused a steady rise in the standard of living for millions of Americans. Whereas the nation once had enslaved nearly half of its population and had provided limited opportunities for much of the other half, after war’s end it turned its energies to an industrial revolution that made America rich and powerful.

Millions of Americans admire Lincoln for his statesmanship, yet some on the extreme left and right accuse him of hypocrisy, offenses against the Constitution and even tyranny. These charges are false.

The black power movement and remnants of Confederate sympathizers would seem to have little in common, but in fact both have denounced Lincoln. Both believe that Lincoln didn’t really care as much about freeing Americans of African descent as he did in wielding power. Their common error, to put it charitably, is to ignore the circumstances in which Lincoln’s statesmanship was employed.

In his campaign against the spread of slavery following passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, Lincoln found himself in the middle between passionate abolitionists who disregarded public opinion, and pro-slavery men who were determined to spread slavery wherever they could.

There was no majority in favor of the abolition of slavery, but many Americans were determined to prevent domination of the country by slavemasters. This position was grounded in the judgment that slavery was wrong and, though too powerful to be abolished, must be prevented from spreading.

We need to understand that when slavery was legal most people were slow to turn against it. Lincoln walked a fine line in the North between those few who favored abolition and many more who hated slavery because it had brought Negroes into the country.

Lincoln contended that slavery was wrong because it denied the fundamental rights of human beings, and that its expansion ultimately threatened the rights of whites no less than blacks. Color may have been an excuse but it hardly limited the desires of slave masters.

Lincoln was reviled by northern Democrats for declaring in his 1858 Senate campaign in Illinois that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." Lincoln invoked that Biblical passage to condemn the efforts of slavemasters to make slavery national. He did not call for the abolition of slavery where it existed.

Lincoln did not originally support full civil rights for those held as slaves for such a goal was not yet possible. It was enough that slavery should be restricted to where it already was.

Fortunately, more Americans opposed than supported the spread of slavery and even more the attempt at secession by 11 southern states. While both abolitionists and Democrats wavered in the face of rebellion, Lincoln never abandoned his determination to preserve the Union or his commitment to the ultimate extinction of slavery.

After hundreds of thousands of Americans became casualties in a terrible conflict, it became clear to Lincoln that the war could no longer be fought simply to preserve slavery. As a war measure, as well as to propound a greater purpose, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in rebel states and thereby encouraged them to abandon their masters and even to join the Union Army.

Lincoln was no usurper, but he did not hesitate to use his powers to preserve the Union. When the Maryland state legislature met to vote for secession, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and arrested all those who intended to take that fateful step. The loss of Maryland would have isolated the nation’s capital behind rebel lines.

As political philosopher Harry V. Jaffa has written, President Lincoln in dealing with rebellion exercised extra constitutional power to protect freedom, in contrast to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who may have been more scrupulous but was dedicated to preserving slavery. That made all the difference.

This Thursday, Feb. 12, we should honor Lincoln on the 200th anniversary of his birth, for he well deserves the titles of Savior of the Union and Great Emancipator. He saved America for freedom.

GOP: Reclaim the spirit of Lincoln

Lincoln inevitably came to mind when I toured the Civil War coin exhibit currently on display at the American Numismatic Museum in Colorado Springs. My grandson asked me to take him to see the exhibit which he'd already seen  a few times and will likely see several more times before the exhibit moves on in October.  The museum is a hidden gem, and the Civil War displays are well worth your time.  My grandson is an avid coin collector, history buff and is developing a very keen interest in our presidents, at the tender age of 6. The Civil War era holds so much history beyond the typical textbook renditions.  As we hear alot about Mr. Obama hoping to fashion his presidential career after that of Abraham Lincoln, I've spent time delving into some of the oft-missed historical content of Lincoln's presidency and politics of the day.  As a quilter, I'm intrigued with the accounts of the Underground Railroad quilts, love letter quilts women made to send with a loved one going off to war, and the message quilts that were hung on clotheslines to assist soldiers in avoiding nearby enemy encampments, or depicting a route they could take if wanting to defect. It is incredible to ponder what it must have been like for the women that stayed behind, with some having sons fighting against each other.  The conflict and mental anguish they must have suffered is beyond my comprehension.  There are amazing stories also of women that joined the soldiers in the combat fields, served as surgeons, helped with burials, and other sobering duties.  Many women believed so strongly one way or another on the slavery issue that they disguised their femininity and enlisted under a man's name.  They fought and died side by side with men.  The issue of slavery and civil rights in general caused great divide and aroused fervent passion and desire to stand up for what one believed.  There were few 'moderates' in terms of support for or against Abraham Lincoln.   People were outspoken with respect to how they viewed their president.  Families were often divided in opinion and friendships were severed.  The press frequently did it's best to undermine Lincoln and create dissent.  Sound familiar?

The Obama's visited the Lincoln Memorial over the weekend and it's reported Mr. Obama will be sworn in with his hand on the same Bible that Lincoln used, and will dine on some of Lincoln's favorite foods for his Inaugural luncheon.  While neither Lincoln nor Obama were born in Illinois, it's reasonable to expect certain similarities between the two, both coming to the White House from the state of Illinois .  {Of note, Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois, yet little recognition  is made in that regard.}  Some are suggesting Mr. Obama may be going a bit too far in trying to mimic President Lincoln.   No matter, the coming Inauguration will be, as always, a monumental point in America's history.  Our system allows for a peaceful transfer of government with as much pomp and circumstance and celebration as the incoming President chooses to enjoy.  The true connection between Mr. Obama and Mr. Lincoln is yet to be revealed in terms of how the country will be governed.

As we look at some historical context, let's clarify that Lincoln was a Republican.  I spoke with a woman during the campaign that said she was voting for Obama because he was going to be the next Abe Lincoln.  I kindly suggested that might be difficult if Obama follows a partisan agenda.  She looked confused, so I told her Lincoln was a Republican.  She was immediately angry and disputed it.  She had believed her entire life that Lincoln was a Democrat.  Afterall, he was against slavery and he wanted equal rights for all people.  It was hard for her to swallow the idea that 'all men are created equal' and civil rights, personal freedoms, along with small government have been foundations of the Republican platform since inception.   Democrats have done a good job of convincing the electorate that it is their party that is compassionate and protective of rights.  I wonder as Lincoln's name continues to be invoked during the coming presidency, how many people will learn for the first time of his political party!

During the Inauguration festivities we will hear repeatedly about the phenomenon of our country electing the first black president.  While it is rarely stated that Mr. Obama is actually bi-racial, the country as a whole should be proud of this  accomplishment.  A particular landmark that is significant to many has been achieved.   Yet, there has been no support from the Left for other African Americans that happen to also be Republicans.  When I think of Ken Blackwell, Rod Paige, Thomas Sowell, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, J.C. Watts, Lynn Swann and Condi Rice of our modern era, I believe any of these individuals may well possess the qualities, experience and background requisite to serve our country as President or any high office in government.  They are Americans of great character and integrity. The media and Democrats as a whole have little to no respect for these individuals, but still claim to be the party of progression and fairness and equality for all.   

Just as many may not know Abe Lincoln was a Republican President, some may also not realize that the great civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Republican.  His niece, Dr. Alveda King, also a Republican, is an accomplished author, college professor and believes the most significant civil rights issue of our time is school choice.  She is also adamantly pro-choice.  While the election of Mr. Obama is a historical benchmark, the clear division in our country that follows party lines veils the deserved acknowledgement of other black Americans that have equally remarkable personal stories,  professional accomplishments and contributions to their country.  As Mr. Obama settles into the Oval Office, hoping to fill the shoes of Abraham Lincoln, he must recognize that the great divide in thinking and opinion today is not necessarily between races, but rather between political parties.  It is partisan politics that has diminished our standing in the world and divided families and friends.   It is the vitriolic and caustic rhetoric of the Left, supported by the MSM, that inflames dissent and inspires anger.  To be fair, there are some extremes also on the Right, however, they don't get nearly as much media coverage, and often when they do, they are quoted out of context within 30 second sound bytes.

The heroics of Harriet Tubman during the Civil War are very inspiring.  The restraints of space here don't allow an adequate tribute to her contribution to civil rights and humanity in general.   History also recounts the difficult work of Sojourner Truth, who also fought hard in the Abolition, and later stood up for women's rights.  Both black women staunchly supported their Republican president and praised his work in supporting freedom for slaves.   In the post-war late 1860's black men were granted the right to vote.  Women--black or white--were not yet allowed to vote, but many Republican women became activists.  Black women are credited for recruiting many Republican voters in the South during this time.  They supported their fathers, husbands and sons as they started to run for office, make speeches on the issues  and other political involvement.  Black women organized political rallies, marches and parades to support Republican candidates, and many became very active in making speeches themselves and worked to get out the vote.  This effort to support Republican causes did not go forth without conflict and threat to personal safety.  In South Carolina, Democrats still angry over the freeing of slaves organized raids to terrorize blacks that were so vocal in support of the Republican Party and it's platforms. 

Today, it is little reported and seldom mentioned that it was the Republican Party, lead by Abraham Lincoln, that stood for free speech, abolition of slavery and women's suffrage.   At the time the Republican Party was founded, the country was divided by political discord among Democrats and a handful of other parties, such as the Free Soil Party, the Whig Party of the South and their spin-off, the the Conscious Whigs of the North that were anti-slavery.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act provided for states and territories to determine for themselves whether or not slavery was legal.  President Lincoln saw the great divide all these radical factions were causing.  He won the presidency campaigning on determined action and strong resolve to end slavery and bring the country together.

As Republicans, let's stand up for our conservatism.  Let's not allow the Beltway Boys, Bill Kristol, Pat Buchanan and other moderate-to-left voices carry our message.  While they have every right to speak and have opinion, they do not speak for us on many issues.  Here in Colorado, don't let our GOP leadership whither away until the next election draws near.  Get involved, ask why you aren't receiving weekly emails with updates about Party activity in your county and our state.  If you don't get the desired response, make noise at the state level and ask why.  Help identify bright, energized, articulate, persuasive, charismatic youthful conservatives and then get behind efforts to set them up for speaking engagements at our colleges, universities and civic organizations.  Find out what is being taught to kids in your school district in terms of accuracy in civics and government.  We need to make sure people around us know who the Republican Party is, what we've done, what we stand for and where we intend to lead.  We aren't just the minority party, we also have an uphill battle to get any press coverage or make any opposition known.  A great effort continues to silence questions and differing points of view.  In the spirit of our founding fathers, we have a responsibility to defend our right of free speech.  As they say in the football coaching industry, "Next year starts today." We won't win back anything in '10 or '12 unless there is activism and movement happening today.

Perhaps Democrat leadership will help us out.  As government grows larger and becomes more intrusive, our version of hope can be that our country takes a hard look and decides it wants some of the freedoms back, and change of a different sort will be desired during the next election cycles.  

Bold leadership worked for Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan in bringing about real change.  It's past time for Republicans to do some history homework and revisit what wins elections and brings people together.  Reclaim Lincoln's goal to "lift the artificial weights from all shoulders, and clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all."  Thomas Jefferson had the same philosophy in mind.  Reagan perfected it.  Freedom of expression, free markets and enterprise, freedom to vote, freedom to practice religion, and opportunity limited only by an individual's personal desire to succeed are the foundations of the Republican Party.   As the spirit of Abe Lincoln prevails during next week's Inauguration, I'm inclined to believe he'd have stern words today for his party:  "Return to your party's values and core principles, and do not become weary in that pursuit."