Speeches from both Republicans and
Democrats on Tuesday reflected the universality of
lessons from Abraham Lincoln's life - and perhaps they
help explain why his legacy is still a force.
President Bush, a Republican like Lincoln, also is a
wartime president, and his speech drew parallels between
Lincoln's effort to expand freedom in the United States
and Bush's own goal to expand freedom in the world.
"Americans have no right or calling to impose our own
form of government on others," Bush said. "Yet, American
interests and values are both served by standing for
liberty in every part of the world. Our interests are
served when former enemies become democratic partners,
because free governments do not support terror or seek
to conquer their neighbors. Our interests are served by
the spread of democratic societies, because free
societies reward the hopes of their citizens, instead of
feeding the hatreds that lead to violence."
Bush also noted that Lincoln wasn't always the
darling of the press.
"In a small way, I can relate to the railsplitter
from out West because he had a way of speaking that was
not always appreciated by the newspapers back East," the
president said, generating laughter. "A New York Times
story on his first inaugural address reported that Mr.
Lincoln was lucky 'it was not the constitution of the
English language and the laws of English grammar that he
was called upon to support.'
"I think that fellow is still writing for the Times,"
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., mentioned that the new
president of Ukraine had spoken recently of a government
"of the people, for the people," or, as Durbin put it,
"the words of the Gettysburg Address still echoing
across the planet."
And he said a Shiite leader in Baghdad had recently
cited Lincoln when asked whether he feared civil war in
Iraq. "We have no greater concern than Abraham Lincoln
did," the man told Durbin.
"In a sense, the land of Lincoln is not just
Springfield; it's not just Illinois," Durbin said. "It
is anywhere that people dream of freedom."
However, Durbin may have gone too far on the levity
scale when he retold a story about the late federal
Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz of Chicago, whose
collection of Lincoln books is included in the
presidential library's holdings.
"Judge Marovitz used to say that his mother believed
that President Lincoln was Jewish," Durbin said. "After
all, his first name was Abraham, and then, to confirm
it, she learned that John Wilkes Booth shot him in the
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said Lincoln's life
illustrated "a fundamental element of the American
character, a belief that we can constantly remake
ourselves to fit our larger dreams."
But Obama also made much of Lincoln's self-doubt -
which may have been a subtle way of taking issue with
the certainty of tone Bush has taken during the Iraq
"Lincoln was not a perfect man nor a perfect
president," Obama said. "By modern standards, his
condemnation of slavery might be considered tentative,
his Emancipation Proclamation more a military document
than a clarion call for justice. He wasn't immune to
political considerations. His temperament could be
indecisive and morose."
Still, Obama said, "perhaps because of a painful
self-awareness of his own failings," Lincoln kept his
moral compass in ending slavery and holding the nation
together through civil war.
"He did not equivocate or duck or pass the challenge
on to future generations," Obama said.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat and professed
admirer of Lincoln, lauded library and museum executive
director Richard Norton Smith, whom Blagojevich
appointed, for his work at other institutions named for
politicians, among them Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan
and Bob Dole.
"Richard, you don't do Democrats, do you?"
The governor also used his speech to take aim at
those who have criticized the museum for being too much
like a Disney production and not enough like the Lincoln
Memorial in Washington.
"There is nothing ordinary about this museum," he
said. "It has been called untraditional. But Lincoln was
untraditional, too. ... This is not a shrine. Neither is
it a mausoleum. Mausoleums house the dead, and in these
galleries you will meet Lincoln living - the successful
lawyer, the towering statesman, the wartime president
who was the target of unrelenting attacks long before he
joined the immortals on Mount Rushmore."
But imperfections are also there, Blagojevich said,
including Lincoln being "an awkward suitor, a compulsive
storyteller and an indulgent parent."
"Yet this only magnifies his achievement," the
governor said. "Because in conceding Lincoln's humanity,
we merely confirm his heroism."
U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, is campaigning for a
possible run for governor in 2006, but near the end of
his speech gave Blagojevich "a special word of thanks"
for bringing Smith to the museum.
Both LaHood and Blagojevich mentioned past governors
who pushed along the project, including Jim Edgar and,
yes, the embattled George Ryan. Both were in attendance,
with Edgar, who now heads the library foundation, on the
stage and Ryan near the front of the audience.
LaHood also praised U.S. House Speaker Dennis
Hastert, a former state lawmaker now living in Plano.
Hastert, who helped secure federal funding for the
library and museum, also found in Lincoln's example a
reason to praise Bush, whom he introduced. Hastert
greeted nine Illinois House members at the event but
singled out LaHood, in whose district the Lincoln
complex sits, for pushing to get the project done.
"When visitors enter this complex, they will ... see
that Lincoln had the power of his convictions and stayed
true to what he knew was right, regardless of what his
critics and the press had to say," Hastert said.
"George W. Bush has led the United States through
some of the most trying days in our most modern
history," Hastert added. "He's seen the realities of
war, and he understands the weight of making decisions
that literally can mean life and death. Faced with
unimaginable challenges, he has responded time and again
with a strength and a conviction that makes this nation
proud to call him our president."
And while some other speakers referred to Lincoln as
the greatest president as Bush sat on the stage, Hastert
was more circumspect, perhaps in deference to Bush. He
called Lincoln "one of our nation's greatest
Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at 788-1540 or