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On Thursday evening Barack Obama delivered a remarkable speech about Lincoln and his message in Springfield, Illinois. The speech got relatively little public attention, which is not surprising considering its complicated theme: the notion of union and its importance. Was this really an appreciation of Lincoln, or a justification of Obama’s first efforts at bipartisanship—now widely viewed as failed? I am not sure about that, but the explanation of the importance of union is fascinating and persuasive. Moreover, Obama’s ability to deliver all of this with a bit of self-effacing humor is very impressive.
Obama is using Lincoln and his vision as a rebuttal to the “knee-jerk disdain for government” which the Republican Party has kept as its mantra since Reagan. In essence he is questioning its legitimacy as a Republican perspective, and arguing that Democrats and Republicans should find common ground in the values of the Lincoln presidency. It’s an intriguing gambit, and the historical elements are appealing. But the basic question remains: does the Republican Party of today really have anything to do with Abraham Lincoln? Has it not in fact become the party of the neo-Confederates for whom his very image is hateful? That, certainly, is what this week’s worth of Washington reality suggests.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”