Overall, Brooks' recommendation that candidates model themselves after Lincoln, "a man who knew about war and division," is not bad advice.
I agree that the next President will be challenged to unite a divided country and offer inspiration in the form of foreign and domestic policies capable of reviving the ailing principles of our constitution. Brooks, however, has a tendency to view things through the Bush looking glass, using Wonderland logic to make the Madhatter Tea Party look slightly less than mad.
Buried in Brooks' rhetoric is Bush's "feedom-spreading" pre-emptive war philosphy; that those opposed to the current 'Empire-Building-Disguised-As-Democracy-Promoting' policy are either anti-freedom or prejudiced against Arabs and Mexicans. Uh huh. Bush-speak is alive and multiplying in David Brooks' brain.
The statement implicitly applicable to what has gone haywire in Bushville is found here: "He [Lincoln] was suspicious of those who tried to divide the nation between the haves and the have-nots, and between natives and immigrants. These sorts of divisions are generally exploited by people trying to get something for nothing." Bush, of course sought divisiveness at every opportunity in his quest to "get something for nothing." Lincoln would be aghast.
At the risk of sounding even more simplistic than Brooks, the job of the next president will be to throw away the damn looking glass, level with the American people, confront real problems with real solutions, and lead with Lincolnesque wisdom and principles that once again make us proud to be Americans--if we even remember what it was that once made us proud. When I hear people say things like, "Torture is OK is certain circumstances," I really begin to wonder.
America has been transformed in the last five years into a frighteningly foreign, oftentimes mean-spirited place. Her citizens are longing to come home again. Nothing less than making that homecoming a reality is the next President's greatest calling.
Lincoln's Winning Strategy for 2008
By David Brooks
The New York Times
Let's say you're one of the 36,000 people thinking of running for president in 2008. You're wooing donors (like Zero Mostel in "The Producers"), rounding up consultants and pretending you respect journalists so they'll give you good press when you need it later on. But in the back of your mind you are wondering: How am I going to inspire a war-weary nation? How am I going to unite a bitterly divided land?
If you're going to frame a successful campaign in these circumstances, you're going to have to learn from Lincoln, a man who knew about war and division.
The Civil War was of course bloodier and more dismal than anything we're facing today. Leadership blunders led to more American deaths in single hours than we've seen during three years in Iraq. Lincoln's opponents argued that the South was too culturally and economically dissimilar to be reconciled with the North, that blacks could not live freely and equally with whites.
But as the situation grew dire, Lincoln did not scale back his ambitions or grow more "realistic." On the contrary, he enlarged and revolutionized the meaning of the war. He emancipated the slaves. He portrayed the war as a front in a worldwide struggle for liberty.
"This kind of response to Southern secession might seem counterintuitive — to take on more burdens, instead of less, just when the night was darkest," Paul Berman has written. But Lincoln understood that the American creed was his strongest weapon. He knew it would attract allies and manpower.
While never losing sight of the ultimate purpose — the triumph of freedom — he pursued his ends with amazing prudence. The historian Allen Guelzo has shown that Lincoln intended to emancipate the slaves from the very first, but he was cautious in the way he proceeded.
His first inaugural was so full of concessions, it enraged his evangelical allies. He brought men of wildly different opinions and interests into his cabinet, as Doris Kearns Goodwin has reminded us. He sought to eradicate slavery gradually, with compensation for slaveholders, and within the framework of the Constitution. Even when the Emancipation Proclamation came, it was a famously dry, uninspiring document.
He was guided by a sense that God is self-concealing. Over the long run, the course of providence is toward justice, but the path is mysterious, so a prudent person is ready for setbacks, lulls and ironies. Lincoln could take startling chances — Emancipation was one — but he could also wait.
His brand of ironic, prudent idealism was evident in domestic policy as well. He had a long-range vision of a just society, implied in the Declaration of Independence. The U.S. was to be a land where all people would have "an open field and a fair chance" for their "industry, enterprise and intelligence." It would be a land of hard-working people striving to rise and transform themselves. His government did everything it could to enhance social mobility.
But in the meantime, he was cautious. He was suspicious of those who tried to divide the nation between the haves and the have-nots, and between natives and immigrants. These sorts of divisions are generally exploited by people trying to get something for nothing.
Far from regarding immigrants as culturally alien, Lincoln saw them as a "replenishing stream." They were true Americans, just as if they were "flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration." He rejected schemes to give immigrants second-class citizenship. These are the schemes kings are always devising, he argued, products of the "same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it."
The people who run for president in 2008 will find themselves campaigning in a weary nation. They will also confront an old form of multiculturalism that has been given a new life. This is the multiculturalism that puts aside the universal claims of the Declaration of Independence, which Lincoln cherished. Instead, it says, democracy is good for many cultures, but not for Arabs. America has benefited from other immigrants, but not the current wave of Mexicans.
This is a multiculturalism born of frustration, embraced by people who have been so soured by the course of change that they've given up on the destination.
The candidates who hope to reinspire such an electorate will have to devise foreign and domestic policies that pursue Lincoln's core goal: "The theory of our government is universal freedom." But they'll have to show they can be prudent in pursuit of that difficult ideal.