“The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done but which they cannot by individual effort do it all or do so well by themselves.” — Abraham Lincoln
“You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.” —Abraham Lincoln
I cannot let this year’s President’s Day end, this 200th year after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, without a note on the strain of ideologies we’re experiencing in America today. During this past week, I heard the first of these Lincoln quotes repeated by President Obama, I saw the second on a bumper sticker on a car.
Both, most of us would agree, are true at some level. But the rub is that these two true statements, made by the same man, can conflict as well. If you push a little too forcefully on one premise, you can violate the other.
Here’s our premise: It’s the holding of both simultaneously, amidst the discomfort that inevitably creates, that is the greatness of this country. Sometimes that means one group of people push one side and a second group pushes another – and then the marketplace of great American ideas comes from all that pushing.
Although this dissension surely has its place in a healthy democracy, I’d argue we’re off course because too many of us fall in a “camp” and too few of us are willing to struggle with the conflicting ideas. Human nature wants to vilify and simplify. We want easy.
And I’d argue that real statesmanship in our leaders comes from the ability to hold dissonant ideas in tension.
Lincoln did that.
When we start hating, really hating, the other side of the argument in the great ongoing American argument, we kill the balance, we kill the tension that has to exist.
We’ve been doing a lot of hating lately.
“With malice toward none…”
May the “work we are in,” sustain America another 200 years.