Lincoln on Sanders in 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

3 a.m. Okay, Mr. Lincoln, let’s talk politics. I watched too many hours of TV last night, waiting for Bernie Sanders. I had forgotten how much I dislike contentious political oratory, with its inherently divisive tone even when the theme appears to be, or tries to be, constructive and engaging. It is a continual presence, that “us v. them” theme, and of course could hardly be absent in any such zero-sum game in which one office-seeker must win and all others for that office must lose, and each contest must or may affect each of the others.

Life is competition, quite as much as it is cooperation, and you cannot define it out of existence merely because you would prefer it not be there. It has its attractive and unattractive aspects, like any part of life. But now in the wake of Sanders’ speech, is not the situation clearer to you?

Well, let’s say some possibilities are more probable now, and others less. This time I would prefer that you lead, rather than that I do, even though it results in people thinking I am putting words in your mouth.

More the other way around – you are extracting them! However, I believe it would be better for you to begin.

All right. Well, a couple of observations, anyway. Clearly the party officials knew of their peril. They went out of their way to hammer the theme: Hillary Clinton will do x, she stands for y, she can be depended upon to stand up for z – and x, y, and z would all be Bernie’s important campaign themes. Also, they went out of their way to give him an honored spot on the first night’s agenda, giving him the final position after Michelle Obama, after Elizabeth Warren. And a couple of speakers explicitly said the party owed him a debt of thanks for raising those issues and gathering his followers.

This worked well with Bernie’s speech, in which he repeated his campaign talking points, this time saying that they were Democratic positions, taking as given that the Clinton campaign and presumably the Clinton presidency would pursue them, even those that contradicted earlier Clinton positions – even Obama’s positions – such as the Pacific trade pact. And he said, as he had said right along, that he had worked with Hillary Clinton for years and liked and respected her, etc.

And the crucial point, the underpinning of his appearance?

Oh yes, certainly it couldn’t be clearer, and it makes me love him all the more. He pointed out that from the beginning it had not been about any individual candidate, including himself, but about igniting a revolution that would continue, and would need to continue, for years into the future.

And has he accomplished that task?

Well, that’s kind of what I want to ask you. Here in 3D, sensory evidence says it’s still undecided which way it will go, whether the party will genuinely try to reform itself and the country or will try to do the absolute minimum to maintain itself.

Push just a little farther, before I give my view. Did the train wreck you were expecting come closer, or did the prospect recede?

I don’t know. Offhand I would say it may have been averted. Certainly Sanders could have ignited a party revolt, leading to a walkout and a third-party candidacy of some sort, as Teddy Roosevelt did in 1912 on provocation certainly no greater than Sanders has had. Neither Bernie nor the party leaders wanted such a collision. Possibly we won’t see the “days of rage” we saw in 1968. So to that extend the prospect may have receded. But that does not mean that any substantial portion of Bernie’s supporters will vote for Clinton. Maybe, but maybe not. Okay, I’ve said my piece. Now I’d really like your take on things, considering your non-3D viewpoint and your 3D experience.

But, you see, I am pointing out something that may not have occurred to you and certainly will not have occurred to many others, and that is, a non-3D viewpoint combined with 3D experience is available to you all, to the extent that you develop it. It is intuition (your non-3D source of knowledge of currents) – and judgment (your knowledge-base built up from first-hand and second-hand experience). You could look at it either of two ways and it amounts to the same thing: you do need Abraham’s views on the matter in order to better understand, or, you already have them. Not so much a choice of reality as a choice in how you see it. To put it in other terms, you are continuously in communication with TGU (seen as if separate from you) or you have no need for communication with any minds defined as separate (because you are already one with them).

I bring this up to remind you that how you conceptualize a thing will to some degree determine how you will conceive it to operate. You may find yourself constructing rules and logical necessities based upon your conception of what is happening, much more than on any definable limits to what actually is happening.

You do not need A. Lincoln’s opinion. I am happy to provide it, but if you were to conceive yourself as needing external analysis rather than occasional reminders that it is all available and is mostly a matter of practice and intent, the end would be to weaken rather than to empower you. And that is the real continuing theme here: You can do more than you always realize you can do.

At first I was a practicing politician as I was a practicing lawyer. That is, I plied my trade, refined my skill, enjoyed the game for its own sake. Until the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the prospect of legalizing slavery on a national basis, probably that is all my career would have amounted to. It was evident that I was not destined for any great distinction – one term in Congress was about the limit of the political honors I could expect. And, as I have said, until Kansas-Nebraska I was losing interest in politics. Life is more than any one thing, and my life was fulfilling enough, particularly considering where I had started.

But once I was seized of a grave concern and bethought me not of helping myself or of helping the party at a more partisan level but of cooperating with others to avert a great threatened evil, the nature of my political involvement changed. No less did I call upon what I had learned in 20 years of practical politics, and no less did I call upon and deepen my alliances with like-minded others, but now it was for something infinitely greater than my own career or personal concerns. From being a practicing politician, I became an advocate, a spokesman, for something of absolutely vital importance. I wasn’t the only one; I wasn’t the first off the mark nor the first in importance, but I was not negligible either. Because I was placed in the great northwest which the new anti-slavery party had to have, and because in 1858 I had been chosen to contend with the most noted advocate of “popular sovereignty,” and because our debates were transcribed and printed all over the eastern papers, I attained in one bound a prominence I had never had, cemented in 1860 at Cooper Union in New York City where for the first time “the tall sucker” was measured against Eastern standards and found not wanting.

All right, I draw the analogy.

But not all of your readers will

In 1858 you deliberately asked Stephen Douglas a question that he had to answer a certain way if he wanted to retain his seat as a U.S. Senator from Illinois, but would cost him the unswerving Southern support he had been counting on in 1860. Bernie Sanders has kept his campaign focused on the need to reform party, government, and the political system beyond government (e.g. campaign finance reform) and last night he deftly kept the attention on the larger cause, transferring or trying to transfer his personal popularity to continued loyalty to his cause after it became linked to the Clinton candidacy. At the same time, in the same moment, he bound or attempted to bind the Clinton candidacy and the party machinery to his cause.

Yes. Seeing something vastly more important than his own personal interest, he continued to serve it. Now, that doesn’t mean anything one way or the other about his future career. When I gave up the prospective Senate seat in 1858 I was personally disappointed but impersonally, one might say, satisfied. Had Seward or someone else become president, I should not have been surprised, nor grieved. As it was, I was gratified to be chosen as standard-bearer in 1860, but it was not nearly so important as that we prevent Stephen Douglas from doing immeasurable harm to the country.

(Bear in mind, this is not said in malice. Douglas and I were friendly rivals, and he was loyal to the Union. But he had a blind spot on slavery that might have ruined us, and he had to be stopped.)

My judgment is that you are unlikely to see the disruption of the Democratic Party unless it attempts to evade or disown the policies it has signed onto as the price of acquiring Bernie Sanders’ cheerful acquiescence in the Clinton nomination.

Thank you, Mr. Lincoln. Enlightening as always, and as always or anyway as usual, somewhat different from what I might have expected. God bless you for your contribution to the life of the nation and the world. I think occasionally of Stefan Lorant in a Nazi prison, sustained only by a book or article or something about you. Your influence is vast, and always constructive. Thank you.

One thought on “Lincoln on Sanders in 2016

  1. four years on, it seems to me at any rate, the democratic party has definitively answered the question you posed then.

    they were hopelessly out of touch -and actively contemptuous of the issues bernie was seeking to address in 2016.

    sinclair said it’s hard to get a man to understand when his salary depends on his not understanding. i believe we’re living through a time in which we get to observe just how hard that will need to be.

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