On November 19, 1863, as President Lincoln stood to deliver the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he could not have foreseen how the nation he envisioned as the home of “a new birth of freedom” could become an intolerable refutation of much of what he said that sad day.
He could not have imagined that the exorbitant and still-rising cost of electing the members of Congress would argue that not “all men are created equal.” Rather, men, and mostly men, of considerable financial substance worth in sum about $650 million would sit on Capitol Hill. Nor would he have imagined that the most powerful interests in this nation “conceived in Liberty” would be about to spend $3.7 billion to position those (mostly) men in November to immediately forget, polls might suggest, “the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
President Lincoln could not have imagined, at least on a 21st Century scale, how the enterprise of government would become precisely that – a business enterprise riddled with corruption brought on by the enticements of money primarily intended to lubricate the interests of the powerful who wish to remain that way.
President Lincoln could not have foreseen that a former member of Congress, already convicted and imprisoned for seven years for bribery and racketeering, would threaten to run for Congress again as an Independent, saying, “I have been a Democrat all my life, and quite frankly I am disgusted with both parties. I hate to say this. My father is rolling over in his grave, a truck driver.”
President Lincoln, a lawyer by trade, probably would suggest that it takes a crook to root out a drift of swine-minded crooks.
Polls of popularity generally assign Lincoln at or near the top of lists of “greatest presidents.” Despite whatever historical flaws he may have as a politician, military tactician or executive branch leader, his reputation for honesty and truth prevail scores of years later. His vision for the Republic was clear. But time and the misuse of money have eroded that vision, rendering it unrecognizable.
In his address of only 265 words, he directed a divided nation to heal the deep wounds brought on by such a divisive war. He said, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion …” He sought freedom — and all the obligations and responsibilities that entails — as a defining characteristic of the Republic.
What would he think of a Congress so divided and held in such low regard by the voters who elected its members? How would he regard an industry surrounding Congress whose sole purpose is to prey on political and philosophical schisms on behalf of powerful clients who seek primarily to retain and expand their means of holding power? Would he be saddened by the decision of the Republic’s highest court to allow corporations the same rights as individuals?
As he sits in effigy, fatigued in appearance by artist’s intent, looking east toward the Reflecting Pool, he may be considering revising his remarks offered at Gettysburg:
We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain— that this nation, under the god of Maximize Shareholder Income, shall have an enduring vision of Corporate leadership—and that government of the Dollar, by the Dollar, and for the Dollar, shall not perish from the Corporate Boardrooms.
Kinda makes you wish we had time travel, doesn’t it?
Time travel — to bring President Lincoln forward? Oh, no, not that. I’d be so ashamed.
Or maybe legalized pistol duels on the Senate floor.
Ok, maybe not. How about boxing gloves or epee’s and fencing armor?
Corrupt government was not unknown in Lincoln’s day. Laws allowed Union subscripts to buy their way out of military service during the civil war. And when the war became particularly long and economically painful for some Northern Democrats, they began a significant secessionist movement of their own. Money has always been a corrupting factor in government, and I think the nation was lucky to get Lincoln. I agree with your premise that campaign finance, as it currently functions, breeds inequality in political campaigns and invites the corrupting influence of money.
Oh, I bet in his more lucid moments he suspected and even was sure that his own acts of disregarding the law would be repeated and surpassed as time marched on.