Category Archives: Lincoln

Happy sesquicentennial birthday to the Gettysburg Address

Four score (4 x 20) and seven years ago I was a quarter century from being born (87 – 62).

So I can’t very well let this day slip away without some comment on this blog. I began the Gary Will’s book about the Address a few years ago but quit a few chapters in. I got the point though. Lincoln really did give the US a new birth of freedom by seriously applying the Jeffersonian declaration of man’s equality to the nation he was busy sewing back together. To me its a large tragedy that the Grand Old Party has turned its back on Old Abe.

I enjoyed this short interview with the Columbia University historian Eric Foner and the reading of the Address by a rotation of NPR voices that followed.

I also heartily recommend the movie “Twelve Years a Slave.” Claudia and I drove to the Twin Cities after the election to catch our breath and see the movie before it got to Duluth. It makes clear the helplessness of identifiably black Americans in the pre civil war South.

Honest Abe 3

This is why the old School Board will live in infamy until today’s Duluthians go to their graves. I wasn’t the only one clipping stories and evidence out of the paper and elsewhere:

My ally replied to my second post with a third email titled: “Nancy N’s prediction” My ally had found one of the confident predictions of then School Board member Nancy Nilsen. Its pretty damning coming from a self-described financial expert.

Found in a quote about how the RP would be an economy stimulus for Duluth too!!!

“I also know that when the LRFP is done and paid for, we will have over $5 million a year to put in programs instead of overhead. After having to cut the budget year after year, I know what great things we could do for our children with that $5 million. ”

When will they ever admit they were WRONG.

Honest Abe 2

Following my last post my old ally asks new questions:

I wonder if based on what Reinert said in the DNT if 709 might not do better in the future. Won’t the kindergarten that is offered now be covered by the State?

Here in Duluth, ISD 709 will see an increase in per-pupil base funding. The Legislature increased the basic formula allowance by 1.5 percent in 2014 and by 5.2 percent in 2015. The 2015 figure includes funding for all-day kindergarten. All-day kindergarten won’t be offered until the fall of 2014, but when it is, it will become available statewide at all public schools. The state does not mandate student enrollment, so parents will still have the right to choose what is best for their children.

My Reply:

Maybe and its a big maybe. I do not expect the state to bail out the Duluth schools if and when they collapse. The state did bend over backwards to save Duluth’s teacher pensioners but that was a one year quirk from over zealous, newbie, DFL legislators sweeping Tea party Republicans out of the legislature.

The all day K is a real boon. Dixon’s Board foolishly took a half million out of the rest of operations for it to go toe to toe with Edison even though there was no public clamor for it. Now that money can come from the state not local taxpayers.

This year’s 1.5 per cent jump ain’t much but next year’s 5 plus is. However, I think it would only be a wash if the levy fails.

The District needs a big operational cash transfusion to compete. Then it needs a school board with a stiff spine to hire more teachers rather than give any new money to fewer teachers rendered useless because of huge class sizes.

That’s my feel of things without the benefit of hard numbers to go on. I’m pretty confident in my over all appraisal but I could simply be deluded as the Red Planners.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Smartphone

An old friend and ally challenges my claims

In an email titled “Honest Abe” a good friend asks me a fair question.

I know you are citing 50 students in a classroom. And that may be the case for some, but how many classes really are that crowded?

I would hate the voting public to be guilted to yes vote the levy based on fear. Just too similar to Dixon & Co. using the DNT to report that there were dilapidated, unsafe schools and we ended up with the Red Plan.

My Reply:

Re: Honest Abe,

Its an obvious exaggeration. I’ve been waiting to see if someone from the district would call me out on it. The classrooms are occasionally in their 40s. A choir member in my church has 39 algebra kids and a woman who called said there were 40 kids in a grandson’s class. The number 40 has shown up repeatedly in letters to the editor.

I’ve had in mind the potential for class sizes when I talk about 50 kids. They may not be 50 now but what happens when the reserve runs out, which it will, and the existing levy fails. Then we move a lot closer to that number. The district is in a death spiral. Add a new high school for Edison and its curtains.

As long as I’m speaking theoretically I can live with my dire predictions. I made them four years ago and so far I haven’t been that far off.

Abe said the nation couldn’t stand half free and half slave. He could have been wrong and was until LBJ passed all those civil rights bills in the 1960’s. It took 100 years for his profecy to come true. Mine won’t take that long if voters are so mad that they turn their half billion dollar schools into abandoned and derelict buildings. I want them to be rational when they vote, not just punitive.


Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Smartphone

My weekend Questionnaire

On Friday or Saturday I got a curious request from an unidentified person. It asked me to answer an attached questionairre and return it.

Evidently Annie Harala had already answered it and her reply was sent to “reply all” so that I and the other candidates all got her message as well as the unknown sender.

I replied with a request that the sender idenity herself and explain what was attached so that I could be sure it wasn’t a trojan horse or a virus.

A little later on I got a sheepish reply from the sender a person I’ve known for thirty years. By this time Henry Banks had also sent in a reply demanding identification. Knowing the person I promised to answer the mysterious questionairre once I got home and before tomorrow’s primary election.

It was a little different:

So that all my readers can see what I answered I enclose it here along with my replies:

Dear Candidate:

Please respond before election –
Thank you in advance for your prompt response


What is your purpose (in life)? To preserve the world and possibly pass it on to future generations better than it was handed to me. This is a pretty tall order.

What is your Mission Statement (for your life). Ditto

What are your Goals (for your life). To live a long fulfilling life, stay interested and pass on my enthusiasm for life to friends and family.

Who do you most admire/emulate, your hero/heroine and state why? There are many worthy candidates but the one that has the most allure for me is Abraham Lincoln.

What resources do you rely on to educate yourself on current issues? Good Histories, honest reporters, Seekers of truth.

Knowing the sender I suspect that a hoped for answer was a five letter word taken from the ancient Greek meaning “book.” That would have been a good answer but it wouldn’t have been mine. I’m an agnostic. That’s ancient Greek for “without wisdom.”

Six Paragraphs

My return to the Reader Weekly, Duluth’s largest tabloid, was a little awkward. Although its publisher had kind words for me as he introduced five new columnists – “Harry is a terrific writer” – its hard not to wonder if that isn’t a promotion of the Reader rather than its returned writer.

My column was submitted and as far as I could tell languished unacknowledged for two weeks before publication. I got home late this afternoon and found that it was indeed in this week’s Reader if not in the Reader’s new website. A picture I’d submitted was not included. My dozen paragraphs were pared down to half that. To the extent that the breaks helped refocus my narative the elimination of them seemed to make it a little breathless. I suspect I’m in part to blame for the mis-communication about what I wanted published. I was on vacation and gloriously distracted until the last two days when I called and found out that another column was wanted forthwith. Yesterday I spent four hours in the car heading home and racing through North Dakota’s stretch of I-94 busily editing a rough draft down from 1100 words to 650 or so. when it shows up a week from now it will be titled “…illions.”

I’m exhausted from a long day and have valiently but incompetantly attempted to stick it into my old website. I’m too tired to correct the mistakes tonight. I need sleep. but for those of you who can’t wait here it is as I would have preferred it to have appeared in print. Tomorrow and henceforth I’ll put it in the proper place and this link will take you to the parent webpage.

Welcome to my new Japanese and Turkish readers

My traditionally local (Duluth area) readership has been disappointed (or pleased) by my recent dearth of posts over the past couple of months. I don’t know if they have given up on me or not as they have in other times of my silence. That’s because their absence has been covered up with new readers who have visited despite my recent quiescence.

In recent years I’ve averaged roughly a thousand different readers each month. For reasons I can’t explain that has jumped dramatically since my fingers fell silent in April. Since that time Lincolndemocrat has gotten on average 5000 visitors a month.

I noticed that starting some months ago I began getting larger page views from overseas. The data for the first half of June 2013 shows that my Japanese and Turkish readers are in hot pursuit of the US readers. The list below from my stats page lists the top seven nations peaking in on Duluth, Minnesota’s Lincolndemocrat:

…………….Pages, hits, bandwidth

US us 2,591 3,514 59.52 MB
Japan jp 1,721 1,721 10.47 MB
Turkey tr 1,266 1,266 4.72 MB
Mexico mx 993 993 3.11 MB
Ukraine ua 885 885 4.51 MB
Peru pe 623 623 1.95 MB
China cn 586 595 22.18 MB

Why should people from these nations flock to my webpage which spends so much time badmouthing the local school board and a Fortune 500 firm from Milwaukee, Wisconsin? I suspect it is because of my use of our nation’s most beloved (except by today’s Republicans) President’s name. If so, Thank Abe! What a great name it is. No doubt Spielberg’s recent movie has encouraged Google inquiries far beyond our nation’s borders.

Its not the new readership that may prompt me to break my recent silence. It turns out my fingers like to pull words out of my brain and spread them on the Internet. My last major silence took place two years ago over the month my wife and I visited Australia. That was a time I resumed reading after the Red Plan Calamity had hung me out to dry. The trip to Australia prompted a major spurt of reading most of it Antipodes related. I’ve recently had another spurt of reading which can be confirmed by checking out my “my reading list” page on my old website. I’ve read books (cover to cover) at a rate of one a month so far this year.

I’m currently juggling books on Lincoln on Twain and the Greatest Migration in American History; that of black Americans fleeing the inhumanity of the South after World War 1.

My most recent post mentioned Life on the Mississippi, the book that made America take Mark Twain’s humor seriously. I cheated by putting it on the reading list. I was only half done but had no doubts that I would conclude it. It was written a few years before the Supreme Court confirmed in Plessy v Fergusson that the South had free reign to pass Jim Crow laws. The consequence was the migration which is described in The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I read almost fifty pages of Warmth to Claudia today. I ordered it from Amazon last December.

I’m looking through two other books only one of which I’m certain I will finish. Both were purchased at my recent, and second, stop at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois. In two days I’m half way through Lines of Contention, Political Cartoons of the Civil War. It will be a nice addition to my book on the cartoons of the years of Harry Truman. The other is the latest printing of Herndon’s Lincoln. William Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner and he decided to defy Victorian convention and write about his longtime friend warts and all. I devoured thirty pages of Introduction by his latest editors and nibbled into the first chapter. I was afraid the writing would be stilted but it is amazingly direct and fresh. I still don’t think I’ll get it read now but I can see why it is the book all Lincoln Historians rely on to know the real Lincoln.

I should also mention the other book I devoured very speedily. Polk, The Man who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman was a fast read. I bought it and a dozen other books a year ago after consulting internet lists of good reads. Polk pretty much finished off America’s borders adding almost 40% to its landmass by fudging a war with Mexico that Abe Lincoln took the lead in attacking in his one stint as a Congressman. It cost Lincoln his popularity back home because Illinois was in a very expansionist frame of mind at the time.

All this reading has put me in a mood to do some writing. It may not all show up here in the blog. I was recently asked to resume my column in the local tabloid. I’d cranked out a hundred columns over a four-year period before I hung it up. At the end of June I’ll submit another and offer them up every other week. The publisher wants me to limit myself to 650 words which is a couple hundred fewer than I generally wrote before. He’s not confident in his reader’s attention spans (or maybe my captivating writing).

And let me be honest. The last time any nation other than the US ranked high on LincolnDem’s list it had to do with some sort of spam operation.

Mitch McConnell’s sense of history

In the NY Times story about Rosa Park’s statue being placed into Statuary Hall there was passing mention of what Republican Senator Mitch McConnell had to say about Rosa:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said that Mrs. Parks’s decision to get arrested rather than to give up her seat helped unite the country.

“For some, Rosa Parks served as an inspiration to stand up against injustice,” he said. “For others, she was a spur to reflection and self-examination, and the reconciliation of cherished ideals of freedom, democracy and constitutional rights with the reality of life as others lived it.”

Helped unite the Country?

Well, if it had I would have expected the Senator to say something other than that the GOP’s top priority at the beginning of the First Obama Administration was to see that it was a one term Presidency. Now that’s a call to unity.

I realize that GOP congressman might have a better chance to show their decency if they hadn’t let the dogs of demagoguery out in the Tea Party. But the GOP, the Party of Lincoln gambled everything on a “southern strategy in 1964 and 1968. The Dixiecrats became Republicans and purged the folks who’d invited them to the party in the first place calling them RINO’s.

For all I know Mitch was being very brave to say nice awkward things about Rosa Parks what with all the folks in his party who are convinced that Obama is a communist. That was very much the message in the 1960’s from stellar folks like J Edgar Hoover. The NAACP was a commie front and you know what that made Rosa Parks. A dupe.

Mitch represents a Party that has taken that attitude to heart. Abraham Lincoln! Who’s that?

I suppose I ought to give Alabama more credit. Their legislature authorized Park’s inclusion in the pantheon of great Americans and that meant its Jefferson Davis inspired Republican Party approved it. That required some of the self reflection McConnell talked about. I’d be less caustic if I thought she wasn’t just being used to hide behind like Herman Cain.

Here are some of today’s Republicans in more candid moments.

My favorite movie – Pt 1 (another late night unedited mental ramble)

I’ve been watching and rewatching some marvelous British Television series lately. Tonight I watched two more hours of “The Hour” on Amazon’s live stream for $1.99 an episode. Its a steal. Last week I finished watching the first season of “Island at War” almost as good. Last night I rewatched the sixth episode of “Call the Midwife” with my daughter who is seeing it for the first time. Like all the other episodes, both first and second time, I teared up. I also got the first season of a good American series finished the other day at about two episodes a night. Its Netflix’s American take on the British political thriller “House of Cards.” The American version stars Kevin Spacey who I saw as an extra in the Disney movie “Iron Will.”

(Will is a so-so movie but it was filmed in Duluth and Two Harbors and it will be at the Zinema some Saturday soon.)

This little post, is an introduction of sorts to a few more to follow. Continue reading

The deleterious inspiration of today’s GOP

I remember reading a review of Farlie’s book, Bite the Hand that Feeds You,” because it was such a great title. In 1980 he wrote this about the new conservative drift of the GOP under Ronald Reagan and the Moral Majority:

“The America which Europe fears is the America of the Reaganites. The America once of the Scopes trial; the America of prohibition; the America of ignorant isolationism. The America then of ‘better dead than red;’ the America of McCarthyism; the America of the last fundamentalists of the 1950s. The America now of the new evangelicals; the America of the Moral Majority; the America of a now ignorant interventionism; the America which can see homosexuals as a conspiracy; feminists as a conspiracy; perhaps even women as a conspiracy.

The America of fear. For it is in fear that the ungoverned and the unfree are doomed to live. And there was this America in control at Detroit. It is time that we reminded ourselves, and said aloud and more often, that it is from these people that nastiness comes. It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right.

No democracy has fallen to communism, without an army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within. The Reaganites on the floor were exactly those who in Germany gave the Nazis their main strength and who in France collaborated with them and sustained Vichy. If the neo-conservatives cannot sniff danger, surely the rest of us can be alert.”

The GOP that is currently attempting to take down war hero and Republican dove Chuck Hagel is simply an amped up version of the party Farlie described thirty years ago. It is the deleterious inspiration for my latest snow sculpture which I should be able to finish tomorrow.

It’s not done but I can show you the little modeling clay model I perched on top of the Rebel flag to guide my sculpting.

I can’t guarantee it will even make it through the night since I’ve just given my detractors a head’s up. The sun will decompose it in a few days although it should be cold enough to remain through the weekend. I can imagine an ignorant Republican knocking it down as an insult to the Party. It is. I can also imagine an ignorant person knocking it down because they are too dimwitted not to realize it in no way exalts the Confederate battle flag.

A dozen cute titles have occurred to me. The GOP whistles Dixie is one. That’s ironic because one of the last wonderful anecdotes about Abe Lincoln is telling a jubilant crowd that he instructed a band to play Dixie at War’s end. I could also call it the Ascension of John Wilkes Booth – Republican martyr.

This year I have sculpted my two most meaningful sculptures. The Angel was deeply felt and this one reflects the frustration of my adult life. Forty frustrated years of working towards and pining for a rational Republican Party.

Nighty night continued

No sooner had I finished episode six and gotten the message that two more hours of House had done by partner in than my little bugger approached the door of my office with his big Mater the tow truck pillow in one hand. I crawled in bed with him – his lower bunk bed not mine until a minute passed and he told me he needed a drink of water. Water became a potty break became a little request that I sit in the chair beside him and NOT in his bed and then a minute before slumber took over.

I’m not much like the character that Spacey portrays. He broke the teacher’s union president by taunting him into punching out the Congressmen which is, evidently, a federal offense. The Screen writer decided that the provocation would not win the union rep any sympathy. I thought it would have had it been skillfully described to a public curious why he would punch the lights out of the Congressman. Oh well, I wasn’t the screen writer.

Kevin Spacey’s character is described by his cold blooded wife. He offered her power and adventure not children. He wouldn’t have gotten my kick out of babysitting two grandson’s solo.

I haven’t posted much for the past few days. I’ve taken in lots of interesting things and I’ve been doing some mental collating and a page of notes for blog posts staring me in the face. I won’t post them but here are some examples:

A. Shakespeare’s plays, not the highest rated of their time, survived only because he and his partners were shrewd businessmen. I wonder how America would have progressed had they not been there for Abraham Lincoln to memorize.

B.That reminded me of something I had read thirty years ago in a Isaac Asimov history of Greece. I recall Asimov saying that a Roman General recovered Arisototle’s books after they had been hidden underground. Turns out that’s not quite what happened. We may owe their recovery to a book collector:

To protect the books from theft, Neleus’s heirs concealed them in a vault, where they were damaged somewhat by dampness, moths and worms. In this hiding place they were discovered about 100 BCE by Apellicon, a rich book lover, and brought to Athens. They were later taken to Rome after the capture of Athens by Sulla in 86 BCE. In Rome they soon attracted the attention of scholars, and the new edition of them gave fresh impetus to the study of Aristotle and of philosophy in general.

The Arabs probably had an equal hand in saving Aristotle so that St. Thomas Aquinas, among others, could us them to undergird Catholic theology.

A book lover in the 1500’s was the principal hero in the book Swerve when he got hold of another ancient book on the stoics.

I also recalled reading a tidbit from twenty years ago about a massive wave of destruction for ancient Chinese texts some 2000 plus years ago.

Over the years I’ve read a half dozen books on similar episodes of censorship. The Black Sea dwells on the reshuffling of the many ethnic populations around the Coast of the Black Sea.

There is much more but this is already far too much.

Today I decided to build my third snow sculpture of the year. I made great progress probably because it relates to something that has been a burr under my saddle for almost as long as I’ve kept track of the books I’ve read – the take over of the Republican Party by the ghost of John Wilkes Booth. Pisses me off. It was accomplished by the kind of guys like the one Kevin Spacey is portraying so brilliantly. People interested in power over truth.

I flatter myself when I muse that this has been the biggest obstacle to my progress in the world of politics. This and my stubborn refusal to become a DFLer when I wanted to run for local office back in 1976. Lincoln did read widely. His Republican successors include far too many who have not followed his example.

GOP = Ghastly Organized Putrescence – Pt 3

Lincoln long fantasized about joining the pantheon of America’s founding fathers or perhaps lamented the seeming impossibility of joining it. His law partner, Herndon, said his brain was constantly preoccupied with his political calculations. Amazingly Lincoln overcame his obscurity and willed himself to become not only one of them but perhaps the first among equals. It’s a tight race as called by historians between Abe and George but Abe told more jokes and George was burdened by his portraits with the grimace inducing false teeth.

I have wondered since elementary school why Lincoln insisted on Union when it required such force of arms to secure. He had precedent to hide behind and democrat party precedent at that. Andy Jackson, President 7, threatened to use the nation’s army to crush South Carolina’s brash secession talk. He was a hard man. He killed a man in a duel and marched the Cherokee nation out of the South on foot in the dead of winter under armed guard and in defiance of the Supreme Court. Long accused of dismissing the court with this tart rebuke of its Chief Justice,” John Marshall has made his decision now let him enforce it?” That’s not quite what he said but it’s an attitude echoed by Joseph Stalin snear, “How may battalions does the Pope have?” In other words, might, not the law, makes right. So why did Lincoln not let the South go in peace with its dirty little peculiar institution? I think it’s because it would have plunged the pantheon back to Earth and placed a bushel basket over the shining City on the Hill that America was to its citizens. Continue reading

The private lives of Presidents

I shrugged off the fatigue that should have put me in bed at 9:30 and prepared to edit the third installment of Putrescence. I wrote it last night but I was operating on fumes after 1500 words and decided it would be better to read it before posting something incoherent. I crawled into bed and lay wide awake for another four hours until I got up with the sun in my face.

As I started to take a crack at editing it an hour ago I tried to look up a famous quote from Lincoln’s law partner Herndon. Herndon was also one of Lincoln’s early biographers. When I tried to google the quote I ran across this short piece in the Atlantic by a noted Lincoln scholar who wrote about Herndon’s struggle with the biography and his knowledge of the all too human Lincoln.

Like Herndon I’ve been wrestling with just what to tell in a book I’ve been laboring over for six years. I shouldn’t feel bad. Herndon still hadn’t written his Lincoln biography twenty years after commencing his research.

The jist of this Atlantic piece is that Herdon originally believed that Lincoln was so important that posterity required that he be to portrayed warts and all. This was a very un-18th Century attitude because Herndon was a bit of a free spirit. The book he eventually wrote did not rake up much muck. (which makes me wonder at the truth and provenance of a reported Herdon anecdote I’ve waved in front of my loyal readers a couple times).

Although Herdon did not write the tell all book he first contemplated I agree with him and others that learning about Lincoln’s pre Presidential foibles would do little to shake the public’s faith in his genius.

My wife just finished the Kearns-Goodwin history that I have lauded previously befor her book club met this morning. All four of the book clubbers agreed heartily that Lincoln was a great man. The movie Lincoln got him right.

So to did another movie I saw yesterday get its subject right. The subject was Franklin Roosevelt arguably the 20th Century’s most important President. However, Hyde Park on the Hudson was a small picture which explains its low 40% favorable Rotten Tomatoes score. It wasn’t about the FDR that contended with the Depression or battled Adolph Hitler. It was the story, based on a play, about the private Roosevelt who despite his crippled legs managed to pursue several dalliances simultaneously. I’ve agreed with both pro and con reviews of the movie but I did enjoy it. FDR, as portrayed by Bill Murray, was hardly heroic but I agreed with the reviewer who said Murray was spot on.

Even though FDR comes across as a man taking advantage of his presidential aura to work his wiles on women the story within a story of the inexperienced new King of England paying FDR an overnight visit suggested Roosevelt’s importance to the age. One historian noted that while FDR did not have a first class intellect he had a first class temperament. So did Abe Lincoln. If someone was to produce a Lincoln on the Hudson movie it wouldn’t change my mind about where he ranks among our Presidents.

GOP = Ghastly Organized Putrescence Pt 2

I’ve felt compelled to think long and hard about Thomas Jefferson through the years because I know that my Grandfather, George Robb, had so little use for him.

I wish I could pick out some specific memory of when I learned this. As an awkward early teen I would visit him a couple times a year at the Presbyterian Manner in Topeka, Kansas when we drove back down to visit my old home town. I probably went largely to please my Mother who felt desperately guilty about having abandoned him by moving to Minnesota as he approached his vulnerable eighties.

I had to make small talk with him as he was not much of a small talker himself. He was however a learned and devoted reader of American history having gotten his start as a kid in endless family political discussions. Both my parents had held him up to me since early childhood as a paragon of virtue his having won the Congressional Medal of Honor. I used to tease my Mom before dementia carried her away about how she had often hushed me up when I was little after a bruising not to cry about such a trifle because my Grandfather had been shot in battle and he hadn’t cried. Its the sort of thing a princess of the Huns might have told a son to steal him for defending the tribe and by the time I was an adult my Mom realized this.

So I spent precious hours growing up asking my Grandfather about history. I vividly recall telling my Grandfather what my favorite teacher Ms. Criss told our class when we were studying the history of the Civil War. She told our class that Ulysses S. Grant had been a butcher throwing his men into battle like logs into a fire to defeat General Lee. Boy, did that annoy George Robb. He proceeded to tell me how vital Grant was to the Union cause.

Among my possessions are both volumes of Grant’s autobiography that once belonged to George Robb’s father, Thomas. Great grandfather Robb arrived in New York from Ireland at age twelve. When his ship pulled into the harbor someone on deck asked an outbound ship for the latest news. “Fort Sumpter has fallen” was the reply. I am only a caretaker for the volumes. I have strict orders from my Mother to pass the books on to my son.

Lincoln was famously handicapped by Generals who suffered from “the slows.” Grant was his salvation and when critics whispered to Abe that Grant was a drunk he shot back, find out what he drinks and give it to my other generals. I wish could recall a similarly vivid recollection of my Grandfather’s disdain for Jefferson.

George Robb has been the subject of numerous posts on this blog. I’m pretty sure my eight loyal readers will have encountered the Grant story previously. But I simply can’t recall the time or a time when my Grandfather made his displeasure with the writer of the Declaration of Independence clear to me. I just have known since my years visiting him he had little use for him.

To fill that void I’ve reflected a great deal on what I do know about my Grandfather and this too is well troden territory for this blog. Growing up dirt poor in Wizard of Oz land, Kansas his family had a next door neighbor Larry Lapsley. Lapsley was a black man, an escaped slave. He must have been in his fifties or older by the time my grandfather knew him. I do know a fair bit about Lapsley from my Grandfather’s own hand. George Robb once wrote a speech about him which I posted years ago on my old website. In that speech he comments that his father had been appointed to attend to Larry’s body at his death and came home in a foul mood afterwards mumbling about the curse of slavery. My grandfather offers his listeners the speculation that Lapsley had been castrated like a steer by his owners. It was a common solution to keep slave men docile and perhaps to guarantee that only the best black studs sired strong field labor.

My Grandfather the historian felt some obligation to give black Americans their due and other type written speeches of his testify to this. As in Lincoln’s time white men were still arguing in my Grandfather’s time that black men could not fight. My Grandfather was witness to the emptiness of this claim. Just as the white soldiers of Cold Harbor witnessed black bravery on the battle field my Grandfather had commanded black American soldiers from Harlem in the trenches of France. If military medals mean anything my Grandfather’s 369th infantry, raised in Harlem, New York, was the most decorated American unit of the First World War.

My Grandfather, however emphatically he attested to black bravery, was still a creature of his time. He was a conservative who had no desire to push the limits his nation where the majority did not want to go. He may very well have agreed with President Eisenhower that Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren, was one of Ike’s worst appointments for letting civil rights out of the judicial bag.

Be that as it may my Grandfather the historian would have been familiar with Thomas Jefferson’s example. Quoted ad nauseum by Democrats who used to hold Jefferson-Jackson dinners they way Republicans used to put on Lincoln Day Dinners Jefferson’s rhetoric became the heartbeat of the American Revolution with the young man’s ideals about the equality of man. Yet the idealistic Jefferson was a slave master who stubbornly clung to his slaves when other more genuine idealists like George Washington set his free in his will. Not only that but he was believed by many to have cohabited with his slave and owned his own children by her as slaves.

In my grandfather’s pre-DNA lifetime this was not a fact that could be ascertained. Nonetheless, my Grandfather who wondered at the possible castration of his neighbor would have found Jefferson a disgraceful hypocrite for declaring all men to be equal except those he put in slavery’s shackles. I can imagine that my Grandfather found it easy to pile other criticisms of Jefferson on that rank betrayal of his own American ideal. That he was a coward having fled the British as Governor of Virginia; that he founded the Democratic Party; that he championed the French revolution and dismissed its mass murders by asserting “Occasionally the tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of Patriots and Tyrants.” Above all my Grandfather would have thought Jefferson’s disloyalty to President Washington by secretly and constantly urging allies to ridicule the first President in print.

I don’t hold the same grudge against the third President that I recall my Grandfather holding. I do hold a grudge against Jefferson’s successors who have perverted the Grand Old Party by soiling Abraham Lincoln’s gift and legacy to the nation – the promise of living up to the Declaration of Independence.

The sixteenth President of the United States is my hero and, ironically, the man who helped bring Thomas Jefferson’s grim prophecy about the blood of tyrants and patriots by spilling more of it than all other American President before and after put together. And it is yet another irony that all of my life I have felt Lincoln was walking on thin legal ice by preventing the South from Seceding.

The chickens are coming home to roost…

…and leave a lot of droppings in the GOP’s coup.

I find it ironic that the GOP which in the Reagan years once vilified (correctly) the Democrats for being a bunch of special interests is now suffering the same fate having become a party of its own special interests. This point was brought home by two stories in the press today on how the public has retreated from two central guideposts of the GOP cannon.

From the DNT’s first Page – “Support for legal abortion continunes to grow”:

As if to further bolster the argument that liberalism is having a resurgence in the United States, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that, for the first time ever, a majority of Americans – 54 percent – now believe abortion should be legal all or most of the time. Even more broadly, a full 70 percent believe that Roe v. Wade – the controversial decision that, 40 years ago, guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion, at least in the first trimester of pregnancy – should not be overturned.

Darned DNT doesn’t have their story on its site. I got this from the Christian Science Monitor (A paper that my Dad subscribed to for years) The DNT’s story mentions that ten years ago rather than 54% it was only 44 percent of the public that believed abortion should be legal. More critically the number of Republicans who feel intensely about this issue is shrinking.

The other poll issue was on page three and was about making it easier for illegal immigrants to enter the US. Once again the DNT’s story is only in newsprint. This comes from ABC:

“More than 6 in 10 Americans now favor allowing illegal immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens, a major increase in support driven by a turnaround in Republicans’ opinions after the 2012 elections.(the story goes on to say that two years ago instead of 60% support it was only 47% support.

Two more GOP special interests that have taken a big hit are the NRA’s no compromise Second Amendment enthusiasts and the religious lobby that wants to keep gays closeted or make them normal. Expect the GOP’s Global warming and science deniers to fall from grace next.

I’ve waited for this all to happen since 1992 when I made my first break with the GOP and ran a quixotic independent campaign for Congress. I returned to the fold afterwords for about ten years but was kept on the margin by the new leaders of the party that were happy to go to conventions and explain that folks like me were the worst butchers in the history of the world. I guess they were accommodationists because after publicly announcing that I was worse than Papa Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Mao combined they were always very nice to me.

As my buddy (who seems to have given up emailing me) often says I’ve got my undies in a bunch over Republicans when Democrats can be expected to overreach with their rhetoric. It makes me think that before I die I should start attending GOP caucuses again (since my political future went over the cliff twenty ago) on the off chance that I can bring a little Lincoln pragmatism back to the party.

I have some personal theories about both parties and their excesses during my lifetime. I think that the GOP was overrun by College Republicans who all majored in business and decided that ethical considerations were a waste of time when short term tactics like stomping out independent thinking would lead to better election results and paychecks. In this regard they were as amoral as the mortgage industry’s specialists who approved unjustified home loans or Vatican priests who preferred to cover up and pay off the victims of clergy sexual abuse.

The book I hope to write someday will chronicle a different age when a similar sort ran the DFL in Northern Minnesota – political hacks with their hands out for government dollars.

Thus it was and ever shall be. Don’t believe me? Watch Spielberg’s Lincoln and enjoy the comic performance of James Spader as the 13th Amendment’s amoral, arm-twisting lobbyist.

I’m ready for a new set of racketeers to take over America. I just hope we get a long interim where idealists reign before they succumb to the pleasures of power.

Mr. Lincoln goes to Hollywood

Andy Sullivan has a post on one of my frequent plaints – that today’s GOP is really driven by the ghost of the old Confederacy. How this came to be is fascinating and it took place in my adulthood much to my chagrin as might be deduced by the title of this blog.

I’ve been looking forward to Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic for a few months. Its been in the works since before Doris Kearns Goodwin began her decade long effort to write her Pulitzer winning Team of Rivals. I only got around to reading the book this summer since I was so busy fighting the Red Plan when the book was published.

After seeing a trailer for the movie I bought the “best book” on the Republican radical Thaddeus Stevens. That book has not been as gripping and not survived my preoccupation with undoing the damage to my second home from an unscrupulous nincompoop “contractor.” I’ll no doubt see the movie without the benefit of the book behind me.

The trailers for the new movie show a fearsome Lincoln that was hard for me to reconcile with the Lincoln I’ve read about through the years. He was driven but is far more famous for being rumpled, droll and melancholy. The fierce Lincoln didn’t register with me. I don’t think I have to worry about the movie if this article from the Smithsonian can be believed. Kearns Goodwin said she felt she was really seeing Lincoln on the screen. That’s high praise. I’m encouraged and can’t wait to watch the movie, which apropos one of Lincoln’s quotes, seems to point true North while directing the audience around the swamps in the way to get there.

Moderation = Conservatism

Amen, David Brooks:

First, let me describe what moderation is not. It is not just finding the midpoint between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting yourself there. Only people who know nothing about moderation think it means that.

Moderates start with a political vision, but they get it from history books, not philosophy books. That is, a moderate isn’t ultimately committed to an abstract idea. Instead, she has a deep reverence for the way people live in her country and the animating principle behind that way of life.

Its not “conservatives” who have purged moderates (RINOs) from the Republican Party. Its Radicals who have purged conservatives. And Mitt Romney owes them big time for overlooking his convenient recent apostasies in their mad rush to get Hussein out of the White House.

Copeland and Lincoln – my favorites

Last evening I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful opening concert for the new season of the Duluth Superior Symphony. We took our good friends and, because of the additional seats required got to sit four or five rows closer to the orchestra.

I was particularly eager to hear the middle offering by Aaron Copeland “Lincoln Portrait” – “>Here a truncated version read by (I think) Gregory Peck. (This is not my first reference to this performance)

It was last performed by the Symphony at a 4th of July Concert outdoors and I joked with my friend Frank that I was intensely jealous at that occasion to hear my two time opponent Congressman James Oberstar do the naration honors. I was almost more irked that he did them quite well.

Over the years I’ve read more books on Lincoln than any other historical individual. Copeland is my favorite composer and I’m sure the Portrait is a large part of the reason for my appreciation. It is however, his Fanfare for the Common Man that is my favorite piece, Its so niave, hopeful, fresh and American. It can’t quite stand by itself but is included in many if not most of the Copeland albums and compilations and when it is included it is the exclamation point.

The orchestra did a creditable job and the narrator, Mr. Fogle, was excellent, understated and grave. Sadly a low static feedback on his mike continued on through the narration. The performance brought a pretty quick standing ovation as did the finale in the second half Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony.

“Creditable” sounds like a dismissal and that’s not a fair characterization. The performance brought a tear to my increasingly weepy eyes and you can’t ask for more than that in any performance. I missed some of the energy of a season opening performance when the musicians should have been keyed up and their music crackling with passion.

Markand Thakar has built a truly phenomenal orchestra in little, lowly, provincial Duluth. We’ve had season tickets off and one since before we had children thirty years ago (if I recall correctly) Markand has been here for a third of that time and a decade is a very long time for a conductor to wield the baton at any particular orchestra before moving on. I think the orchestra has grown a little blase about him and it seems borne out in performances with are close to flawless but often wanting in intensity.

I was on the School Board when Markand came to town and at one supper we ate together he lobbied me for more money for the school music program. I was but one member of the Board and the political realities prevented me from doing anything except for putting my heart into the passage of excess levy referendums. Otherwise I was a tightwad with existing cash and resisted large pay increases for the teachers which would have necessitated cutting back the faculty and the course offerings.

Little did I know that those would be the good days for music in the public schools. We had a fabulous music program. I swear when my kids were at East High a School general music program seemed to include half the students on the stage. The Christmas/Winter performance at the DECC auditorium was like a small town festival. True, the music rooms were hideously small, unacoustic, and damaged the hearing of the teachers. That’s no longer the case but I’ll bet the number of children taking music instruction is a much smaller percentage now than in the pre Red Plan days. I’d love to have a school board member make an inquiry into this subject but I wouldn’t expect them too. The results could be too dispiriting.

I do not think that this will be true of the new Symphony season. Last year the Orchestra did crackle repeatedly under the batons of all of the candidates to succeed Maestro Thakar. I was especially knocked over by the first performance of the first candidate. That candidate will soon take up the baton as our new maestro. I hope he keeps the marvelous orchestra that Thakar built on the tips of their toes.


…the Spielberg movie:

It would be nice if the Grand Old Party could see this movie (adapted apparently from Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals) and remember that Lincoln not Reagan was the father of the Republican Party.

Although Thaddeus Stevens didn’t make much of an appearance in Goodwin’ book I see one of the principal actors portrays the old radical. I think the book I just bought on him will be the next book I read. Stevens was the principal character in the Reconstruction of the South to follow Lincoln’s assassination. Its still not quite over although all the Johnny Rebs became Republicans.

No on can tell me that history doesn’t have a sense of humor.