What Would Lincoln Say?

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. The words "government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth," are now immortalized in school textbooks across this great undivided nation.

Fast forward seven score years from that day. President George W. Bush has just eclipsed his own fundraising record of $101 million over the weekend, and is well on his way to a jaw-dropping $200 million or more.

Imagine what our nation's first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, would say to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It was a dark and stormy night. For some reason, President Bush, who was normally early to bed and a sound sleeper, found himself tossing and turning. He decided to wander the deserted halls of the White House residence in the early morning hours, and soon found himself in the Lincoln Bedroom. To his surprise, a candle was burning on the desk, and a tall man with a dark beard called him to sit down.

"George," the man began, not mincing any words.

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed." (Letter to Col. William F. Elkins, November 21, 1864.)

"Abe? Honest Abe? Is that you?" President Bush answered, startled and shaking his head. "Well, it's good to see you. Are you talking about Iraq and Halliburton? You don't understand -- that was Dick's deal, not mine, see.

"We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We're pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime, who will be held to account for their crimes. We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. We're helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people." (Speech aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003, under the "Mission Accomplished" banner.)

"There you go again, George," Lincoln responded. "Stealing my words. It was bad enough you made that speech on my namesake. A little free advice: Maybe next time you should try a more humble approach.

"And," Lincoln continued, "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence." (Address in Independence Hall, February 22, 1861.)

Hearing the word, "politically," Bush, without thinking, knew exactly how to reply:

"The political season will come in its own time. I've got a job to do." (Oft-quoted remark from every fundraising speech.)

Refreshed from a chance to speak with Lincoln, President Bush then promptly left to wish Vice President Cheney well as he caught Air Force Two. It was taking Cheney to upstate New York, where he was expected to raise millions from donors giving $1,000 or $2,000 a piece at three consecutive meals in three different cities.

In the silence of the building he knew so well, Lincoln sat with his head in his hands. After a minute he got up and looked out the window at the helicopter taking off.

"All men and women are created equal," he muttered to himself. "But it seems that now some are more equal than others. The living certainly have unfinished work to do."

David Donnelly is the political director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, which has issued the Lincoln Call for a Presidency Of, By and For the People.

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