The Guy down the Street
Today’s 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln has had the wonderful effect of focusing attention on the great man’s life. I have read three books on Lincoln this year so far and have watched various television shows about his life. I believe that Lincoln scholarship is at its peak today, primarily because of its objective focus on “Lincoln the Man”. There are things about Lincoln that we wish were not true, that we wish we did not know. Having reviewed the lives of almost all of the men who have held the Presidency, I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the same misgivings apply to all of them.
There is a branch of Lincoln scholarship which seeks to compare his views of the world with what our more evolved views of the world are today. That is fair if there were people of his time that were more progressive than him. There were. Despite the fact that he, individually, was responsible for freeing millions of slaves, Lincoln himself was no abolitionist. He was in the moderate wing of the Republican party and believed that by preventing the extension of slavery into the new territories of the United States, slavery would eventually collapse. Which it would have. That view put him ahead of most of his fellow citizens, but he certainly lagged behind people like William Lloyd Garrison. I thought that it would be interesting to place Lincoln in a nice neighborhood in Austin today and leave his views, circa 1856 as he expressed them. No one can know for sure what his true feelings were and which were political. But let’s assume that he meant what he said.
The fellow down the street from you is an odd duck. He is remarkably ugly, a word that you don’t use much in describing people, but which fits him. A beard would help cover his chin and perhaps give him some dignity, but it would not help much. Despite this fact he is vain. He is constantly having his picture made and has even hired painters to do portraits of him.
He is the oddest figure of a man that you have ever seen. The tallest man, by far, in the neighborhood and just about the thinnest. His arms and legs are so long that the kids, and some adults, secretly call him the “gorilla’ or the baboon”. Still, the children love him, he has four boys of his own and you can see him out playing with them. Despite this, he obviously suffers from clinical depression. When he walks his dog around the block he is literally dripping with melancholy. A couple of times he has just disappeared for a week at a time after getting bad news. He is the saddest man that you know. It may be because of his wife, an imperious woman who thinks that she is better than the neighborhood and constantly berates him. She was a debutante in her youth and has never lost her superior attitude. He is a lawyer (like most of the Austin neighborhood) but travels about half of his time. Many say that he does it to get away from his wife. He is a senior partner in his own firm and is well thought of in his profession. He makes good money.
He seems to try to cover up his depression with jokes and funny stories. In fact, it is hard to have a serious conversation with him because he always introduces old stories about people he knew or claimed to know. About half of his stories are racist in nature which he tells with “Negro dialect” as he calls it. This is very uncomfortable for those listening, and because of that and the fact that everyone hates his wife, they don’t socialize with many on the block. His views on race are extreme. He has said, in public, that the white race is superior to the black race and that the races will never be able to live together as social equals. He honestly believes that the best thing for both races in America is for the government to find a way to ship all members of the black race back to Africa. He does believe that the more intelligent of blacks should be allowed to vote, as well as those who have served in the armed forces.
At times he appears to be a religious man, but he does not belong to a church. In conversations about religion, it seems obvious that he strongly questions the divinity of Jesus. He spends a lot of time working for the Republican party and is interested in elective politics, in which you would not think that he had a future. He believes in a very strong executive branch of government, almost dictatorial when the situation calls for it.
Well, there’s your neighbor. Strange fellow. As strange as you would be if dropped into a neighborhood in 2159 and perhaps let it be known that marriage is a state reserved for men and women as President Obama stated during the campaign. Sensibilities change over time. My belief is that in all ways political, the movement is always to the more progressive view on any matter. It can be slowed, but it cannot be stopped. Lincoln would be shocked, and possibly very upset over Obama’s election. But Lincoln himself, despite the flaws we see in him today, set in motion the possibility of it happening. Auden was right,"the words of a dead man are modifed in the guts of the living", but for the man who truly does good, time forgives. When placed in his proper perspective, Lincoln is the greatest of all Americans