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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Commemoration in the Alternative Universe

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln, given Saturday, March 4, 1865

Porcupine had often heard the words before, but never before used as an Invocation. Still, the setting was appropriate, and the speaker even better. The mellifluous tones belonged to John Sears, seen last by Porcupine 1982 at the Chatham Bars Inn during his campaign for Governor. Mr. Sears is perhaps best known for giving the last entirely honest and un-spun answer to a reporter in Massachusetts politics. When asked what he would do if he failed to be elected, her replied that he had a full, busy life and was running because he thought he could serve well, not because he was desperate to hold office; “I’ve got golf to play, I’ve got books to read”. His defeat may have marked the demise of political candour, but his ability to speak is well remembered and still evident.

It was an appropriate occasion for remembrance, because that was the purpose of the celebration. Porcupine was honored to attend the 140th Annual Lincoln Dinner of the Middlesex Club. The first dinner in 1867 was held as a testimonial to the slain President, and has been held to remember is words and ideas every year ever since. It stands as the oldest continual celebration of Abraham Lincoln in the nation.

About 250 guests attended the dinner at the Copley Plaza, and were the cream of the old guard Republican establishment in the state. Dr. John DeJong, the current President, served as Master of Ceremonies. Republican State Committee members and elected officials were there, but the bulk of the membership was not activists or politicos, but the quiet backbone of the Party in Massachusetts.

Abraham Lincoln attended and spoke briefly. While Porcupine has seen such impersonations before, this one was particularly effective because Mr. Lincoln was well over six feet tall, slender and lanky, and youthful, as Mr. Lincoln must have looked when he visited Massachusetts. That speech centered on Congressman Lincoln’s travels around the state, to Worcester, Cambridge, New Bedford, Taunton, and other Republican strongholds of the day, and it was a successful visit, as the strong Republican vote in 1856 was the main reason that the Party even continued in existence.

Michael Sullivan, dual office holder as both head of the ATF in Washington and the U. S. Attorney in Massachusetts, gave the Lincoln Day Oration. He spoke on Lincoln’s severe criticism over suspending habeas corpus in order to interrogate and hold suspects in the war, holding prisoners for unspecified crimes and periods, and trying civilians in front of military tribunals – necessary, but highly unpopular actions which had more than a bit of the current day mixed in.

The main speaker was a substitute. Sen. Check Hegel was to have been the speaker, but had to cancel unexpectedly – although given the reports that he plans to hold a press conference to retire on Monday, perhaps understandably. Instead, the main speech was given by Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut, who holds the distinction of being the only Republican member of the House in the six New England states. He was an excellent speaker, witty and warm, and he spoke about the increasing factionalism and lack of consensus in Washington, likening it to the early years in Lincoln’s own political cabinet and congress.

To be sure, the political was there. Jim Ogonowski spoke, fresh from his Primary victory, and the membership was enjoined to support him in any way they could to win the special election for the Fifth Congressional seat. Jeff Beatty, candidate for US Senate and former Delta Force and CIA officer, got off perhaps the best line of the night. He said that he had spent most of his career working within small, elite squads to effect great change, and after the CIA, the Mass. Republican Party effort to defeat John Kerry was a next logical step in covert operations.

It was an excellent evening in the Alternative Universe of Republican politics, once again unsullied by attention from the media or public mention. Still, Porcupine left cheerful, not bitter, as the Middlesex Club has proven its durability as an institution, and will continue to impart that sense of survival to the Massachusetts Republican Party.

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