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Friday, April 12, 2013

"Hey Blinkin!"

I haven't seen Lincoln yet. I know. There are two main reasons. One is that it's almost three hours long and I have a long-standing policy of not watching movies that are longer than 2.5 hours that don't have Harry Potter in the title. The other is that I haven't finished the book yet and I don't want it spoiled.

The book in question is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. I'm about a third of the way through and the dude hasn't even been elected yet. Stop me if you've heard this before, though. A candidate who is considered a shoe-in to win the nomination for the party - in this case the newly formed Republican party - and a handful of other folks who seem to have an OK chance of generating some press but that's about it. Then what happens? Some tall guy starts giving good speeches and then wham-o. A guy most folks hadn't heard of gets the big nod.

That's what you get so far with Team of Rivals. A lot of stories that seem very familiar, even though they happened so very long ago. You think that political rhetoric has gotten steadily worse than when you were young? Try this on and see how your thighs look in it:

"The illustrious Honest Old Abe has continued during the last week to make a fool of himself and to mortify and shame the intelligent people of this great nation. His speeches have demonstrated the fact that although originally a Herculean rail splitter and more lately a whimsical story teller and side splitter, he is no more capable of becoming a statesman, nay, even a moderate one, than the braying ass can become a noble lion. People now marvel how it came to pass that Mr. Lincoln should have been selected as the representative man of any party. His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world. The European powers will despise us because we have no better material out of which to make a President. The truth is, Lincoln is only a moderate lawyer and in the larger cities of the Union could pass for no more than a facetious pettifogger. Take him from his vocation and he loses even these small characteristics and indulges in simple twaddle which would disgrace a well bred school boy."
Now you might be thinking that some Southern rag was publishing that nonsense about the recently inaugurated President Lincoln. Nah, though. That was the Salem Advocate. The paper in Lincoln's own state of Illinois.

Political candidates losing or winning based on the thorny issues of immigration and religion? When William H. Seward, the aforementioned shoe-in candidate, bucked the anti-immigrant/anti-Catholic Whigs by providing education funding for (gasp!) all students, not just the Protestant English, he probably cost himself the nomination and eventual presidency.

In fact, the thing that really sets Team of Rivals apart from other Lincoln biographies is the context. This book is as much about those he defeated and then turned into friends as it is about Lincoln himself. Though there's plenty you'll enjoy learning about ol' Number 16. Like did you know he was basically a stand-up comedian before such things existed? People came for miles to hear his jokes. And some of them were about poop!

"One of Lincoln's favorite anecdotes sprang from the early days just after the Revolution. Shortly after the peace was signed, the story began, the Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen 'had occasion to visit England,' where he was subject to considerable teasing banter. The British would make "fun of the Americans and General Washington in particular and one day they got a picture of General Washington" and displayed it prominently in the outhouse so Mr. Allen could not miss it. When he made no mention of it, they finally asked him if he had seen the Washington picture. Mr. Allen said, 'He thought that it was a very appropriate [place] for an Englishman to Keep it. Why they asked, for said Mr. Allen there is Nothing that Will Make and Englishman s**t so quick as the Sight of Gen. Washington.'"

Anyway, that's what I've learned so far about Abraham Lincoln. I'll be sure to tell you more as I learn it.

I will leave you with an original painting by one Joanna Howard. The medium is a combination of acrylics and adorable.