“that these dead shall not have died in vain”

Abraham Lincoln "Gettysburg Portrait"

After mulling over Obama’s remarks at the memorial service for the victims of the shooting attack on Gabrielle Giffords, it struck me that our 44th president was channeling the words of the 16th, also spoken at a moment of national grief and mourning. It seems to me that Obama adopted the spirit of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Barack Obama

The president asked us to use the Tucson memorial service as a jumping-off point, a moment the nation can and should seize to begin to bring about the change most of us long for: the willingness to listen to each other and work together on issues like gun safety laws and our mental health systems and immigration.

Even before the president spoke, we saw Gov. Jan Brewer— a figure vilified by the left for her views on immigration— take the floor after Carlos Gonzalez, the son of a Mexican and a Native American had delivered the benediction. As she generously and graciously addressed the president, we were witnessing the kind of change we’d like to believe in. Obama too showed his generosity when he found a way to include his former rival, John McCain, in his remarks.

Compare Lincoln and Obama:

Lincoln: Now we are engaged in a great civil war

Obama: But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

Lincoln: It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

Obama: That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them.

If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.

Lincoln: It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion

Obama: We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

Lincoln: we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain

Obama: we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.

Lincoln: —that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom

Obama: I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.

Lincoln: and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Obama: Gabby called it “Congress on Your Corner”— just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.

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Filed under Musings, Politics

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