Along with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is often considered the greatest speech in American history. And for good reason, as it encapsulates – in just 272 absolutely perfect words – everything this nation stands for. Or maybe I should say “everything this nation SHOULD stand for.” Just to pick out one phrase that I think is particularly relevant today, let’s go with the final words of the Gettysburg Address: “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Are we living up to those words today? Sadly, I don’t think so. If anything, I’d say we’re getting closer to “government of the powerful, by the wealthy, for the corporations” – another “Robber Baron” era, but perhaps even worse – than what our government SHOULD be all about. We also have a major political party – ironically, going by the same name as Lincoln’s party (although the Republicans have changed dramatically since 1863, in ways Lincoln would no doubt be horrified by, if he even recognized what the GOP has morphed into) – with a fundamental hostility to government in general, let alone by/of/for the people.
I mean, think about it: we just got through a presidential election in which the Republican Party’s candidate for the position Lincoln once held stated his bizarre belief that “corporations are people.” As if that’s not bad enough, we’re currently witnessing the results of a relentless, multi-decade assault by Republicans on the very idea of collective action – and specifically of governmental action – working to better the lives of all Americans. The latest example: the monomaniacal (not to mention mostly irrational, bordering on hysterical, even unhinged) assault on the Affordable Care Act, which ironically is largely modeled after Republican and conservative think tank ideas (e.g., the individual mandate), for the “sin” of trying to make Americans lives better. As Andy Schmookler has written here on numerous occasions, this is just one manifestation of the dark, twisted spirit we see in today’s Republican Party. That this party was known as the “Party of Lincoln” 7 score and 10 years ago seems a cruel irony today.