Lincoln and Bush

Still thinking about Lincoln and the current Bush and whether they would have been on the same side during the current or former unpleasantness. I figured the White House must have had a Lincoln’s Birthday event that might shed some light on the question. Checking the White House site, sure enough: George and Laura hosted a performance of “Lincoln Seen and Heard,” a dramatic presentation of some of the 16th president’s speeches and writings. Sam Waterston, who was Lincoln’s voice for Ken Burns’s Civil War series, presented the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. The latter was delivered about five weeks before Lee surrendered at Appomattox; it had finally become clear which way the way would go. Yet Lincoln’s words, which he knew would be read in the South, are entirely without a sense of triumph. Bush could have learned something from that before he put the flight suit on and flew out to that carrier. But of course, if he was liable to learn a lesson like that, he wouldn’t be our George.

At the end of the evening, Bush talked briefly about what he had heard. He said Lincoln was our greatest president. And he hinted, of course, that Lincoln’s words bolster his program to shock and awe the world’s evildoers out of existence with high explosives and the wonders of democracy:

“The Civil War was decided on the battlefield; the larger fight for America’s soul was waged with Lincoln’s words. In his own day, Lincoln set himself squarely against a culture that held that some human beings were not intended by their Maker for freedom. And as President, he acted in the conviction that holding the Union together was the only way to hold America true to the founding promise of freedom and equality for all. And that is why, in my judgment, he was America’s greatest President.

“We’re familiar with the words of the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural, so eloquently read by Sam. And this performance reminds us that Lincoln wrote his words to be spoken aloud — to persuade, to challenge, and to inspire. Abraham Lincoln was a master of the English language, but his true mother tongue was liberty.

“I hope that every American might have the experience we had here tonight, to hear Lincoln’s words delivered with Lincoln’s passion, and to leave with a greater appreciation for what these words of freedom mean in our own time.”