On Lincoln and Our Second Founding

I recently had the opportunity to sing “American the Beautiful.” The lines that most hit me are in the third verse:

Oh, beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!

When I sing these, I don’t think about Washington, Jefferson, Adams, etc. Instead, I usually think of Abraham Lincoln. If you stop to think about it, loving country more than self is a very high standard, perhaps an impossible one. How many, even in our armed forces, enter and serve for totally selfless reasons? What about those running for political office? It may well be that no one has yet achieved that standard in real life over the long term. But if anyone came close, I would guess it was Lincoln. He is also mostly responsible for making the Civil War a battle of “liberating strife.” He often angered even allies with his willingness to grant mercy: to soldiers, to civilians, and to former Confederates. He wasn’t perfect in that regard, but he was remarkable among human beings and presidents.

Lincoln is also my favorite “Founding Father.” When the Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal,” it pretty clearly meant “all white men.” The 1787 Constitution (which we rightfully revere) only got the nation through 73 years before engulfing us in a conflagration over the “slave question.” It took the re-founding of the United States during and after the Civil War to established the kind of nation we have today. The Civil War Amendments – 13, 14, & 15 – radically redefined our nation by ending slavery, extending citizenship and rights beyond the boundary of race (and beyond the federal government into the states), and guaranteeing the right to vote. All of those ideals haven’t been perfectly enforced to this day, but the fundamental ideas are now enshrined in our supreme law. Altogether, the nation that Lincoln founded is much better than the one established by the revolutionary generation. Lincoln built that new nation on their foundation – and often claimed that his vision was theirs – but his vision of liberty actually far outstripped the old. For that, I am grateful.

The Politics of Parenthood

In an interview conducted by Rachel Maddow, John Stewart once suggested that the media exaggerates the centrality of the Republican/Democratic divide in America. Looking surprised, Maddow asked what he meant. As an example, Stewart suggested that the difference between people with children and those without was much more significant. At the time I thought it…

Diversity in the Classroom is Doomed.

Yesterday, supporters of affirmative action in admissions got a reprieve. The Supreme Court voted 7-1 to return the case to the 5th Circuit for reconsideration. But that reprieve won’t change the ultimate calculus that spells the doom of affirmative action in school admissions. The problem is a fundamental contradiction between the allowed reason for such policies…

Close of the Term

It’s one of my favorite times of year, the close of the Supreme Court’s term. Yes, I’m nerdy like that. But these are some big, significant decisions being made. I suggest, as I always do, that you follow along with Slate‘s Supreme Court Year in Review.  Though I miss having Dahlia Lithwick involved, Emily Bazelon…

The Challenge of Tenure for Women

A recent article in Slate summarizes some of the findings in Do Babies Matter?: Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, a recent book by a team of Berkeley researchers. Mary Ann Mason, Ph.D., J.D., a co-author of the book, summarizes their findings thus: The most important finding is that family formation negatively affects women’s,…

What the Protests in Turkey Say About Us

As the news of large protests in Turkey began to circulate, I’ve been a bit troubled by the initial reactions and what they say about the American mindset. Where there was little information at the outset about the proximate causes and underlying issues, there was a plethora of conclusions about what it all meant, who…

It Is Time to Reassess Our Wars

In the context of Pres. Obama’s recent speech calling for an end to the ‘war on terror,’ may I suggest that we end another long-running war — and consider starting some others? A friend shared this article with a key quote: But federal research shows that the average sentence for a first time, non-violent drug…

A New FBI Director

In case you hadn’t heard, the current FBI director will complete his service in early September. President Obama will soon nominated James Comey to serve as the director. Comey is a lifelong Republican and former Justice Department official during Bush II’s administration, a fact that has gotten some attention. Most famously, Comey was the acting…

What If Jesus Was Right About The Poor?

The title is the first of two questions that have been been bouncing around in my head for a few months now. It has to do with a comment made by Jesus. Here’s how it was recorded in The Gospel of St. Mark: For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will…

How Should Government Promote Stable Families?

While the achievement of marriage equality will be a tremendous step, it comes at a time when an extended recession has drawn attention to the economic fragility of contemporary families. When two parents are required to support a child (or when only one is available), the consequences of unemployment or underemployment can be devastating for…