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By Tom Driscoll
Nov. 17, 2013 5:15 p.m.

We’re arrived on the 150th anniversary of that oh so famous (and deliciously brief) speech —the one where President Lincoln momentously asked whether government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” would “long endure” or “perish from the earth.” A fair question, I’d say. We have our moments, don’t we? The query seems fresh and pointed just now scanning over the discussion we have on this blog and taking a measure of the supposed debate we have around this country. Do we still honor that ideal “of the the people”? Liberals and Conservatives alike talk about their fellow citizens with —let’s say— something just shy a bit of respect at times. We fret about money in our politics buying elections in that it buys media to feed a doltish and suggestible public on half truths and distortions. Those with whom we disagree or those not “with the program” are the way they are because of their misguided misinformed ignorance and/or their corruption. It’s pointless to engage in a discourse, persuade (or be persuaded) in candid constructive and inclusive debate. Our elections are about mobilized bases —maybe a little tactical suppression when push comes to shove. Winning or losing all.
So, today, what is it we have to say to Old Abe —or more importantly to those dead who hallowed our national landscape —those that he happened to honor with his notice that day 150 years ago?
“Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” —what did those words mean then and what do they mean now? We still have to ask, don’t we? Is liberty curtailed by a tax surcharge? How far do we take our dedication to man’s supposed equality at the hands of his creator? In those days we confronted the institution of slavery —our own countenance of it. We still ask about basics like housing and education and healthcare —are these “endowments” outcomes or opportunities? Must liberty suffer for the sake of equality? What level of complexity and contradiction makes allowance for the truth of both? We have our differences along these lines.
What strikes me —as we confront these questions— is the pointedness of that first question, the one about of-by-and-for-the-people government. Do we still trust not just government but each other for the answers we need? —however provisional and qualified and compromised those answers might be for a given question —for a certain task? Did we ever really manifest that trust? How long and how deeply has our supposed democracy been the rule of a self selected power elite? Are we a system with ennobled self government as its ideal or is what we cherish really a foil of hobbled power —finding a cynical kind of virtue in the very limits “of” the people?
We have our moments don’t we?
Yet, when I hear the speech I can’t help but respond with some small amount of “increased devotion” —and by my own nature I identify with the notion of this country that creates and progresses and improves —that aspires. That more perfect union. When I consider the speech and the sacrifice it was intended to honor I think its power resides in the personal and spiritual level of appeal. We are asked each of us to look beyond the dead and the monuments and wreaths towards an action of more profound honoring —in continuing —in surviving such as we are —the people.

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