Best Regards of the Day, Mr. President
The quote above is from the poem 'Mortality', which was a favorite of President Abraham Lincoln who recited it entire from memory so often that he was mistakenly thought to be the author. He wrote to a friend, that "I would give all I am worth, and go into debt, to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is. Neither do I know who is the author. I met it in a straggling form in a newspaper last summer, and I remember to have seen it once before, about fifteen years ago, and this is all I know about it." And this was the man who wrote what is considered to be the finest oration ever given, the Gettysburg Address! A link to the enitre fourteen sentimental and melancoly verses is found HERE.
It might seem odd to mention this facet of the President's nature as part of a birthday tribute, but it was a compelling and overarching feature of his life, which gave his tremendous empathy for the sufffering of others. Lincoln's melancholy was the father of his compassion, and perhaps allowed him to preside over the most critical period of American history with a sense of fatalism, destiny and religious faith. Indeed, an excellent article in the Atlantic Monthly in October of 2005 argued that Lincoln's chronic and devastating clinical depression, in an era without psychiatry or medication, was what gave him the strength of character necessary to cope during the Civil War years. He had been broken many times, but had to rebuild himself, becoming stronger with each episode. It is unnerving to think of a President sitting in the Oval Office, racked with uncontrollable sobbing, confessing to friends that he dared not carry a pocket knife for fear of what he might do during an attack of 'the hypos' (for hypochondria) as he called it - but this is the man who kept the country together during its most dangerous challange, freed the slaves, and was the first President and among the founders of the Republican Party.
As we go into another election year, and begin the wailing about the quality and timbre of those who put themselves forward, please consider this. Would we, as a nation, state or district, allow a person with clinical depression to serve as our elected representative? Would we narrow our focus to the flaw, and fail to see the person that the flaw has strengthened?
Worse, would we elect a person who was ugly, with a thin reedy voice?
We cannot elect a person to office knowing what will be the most important issue they will be called upon to cast a vote. Locally, while working on a campaign in 2002 where gay marriage was a hot issue, Porcupine went back and looked at the leading question asked in 2000, the great determining factor in the last election. It had been the stance on the death penalty - which didn't even get a hearing in the Session after the 2002 election. In 2004, after the media was done ascertaining how a candidate stood on gay marriage, the first important issue to be voted on was stem cell research - which hadn't even been on the radar of the questioners during that election.
We must elect people not on a narrow stance or issue, but on their overall personality, maturity, judgement and experience. Frankly, the narrow interest groups who make so much noise and demand so much attention during elections are little more than Rorsach blots to see how a candidate reacts; and be wary of one who tries too hard to line up endorsements like ducks in a row, or parrots a narrow party line on a specific issue with no real ideas of their own. Those will probably not be the issues that the politician is called upon to make decisions about.
For those interested in learning more about Abraham Lincoln, there is the digitization project of the Illinois Historical Society and Northern Illinois University, Lincoln/Net .