MAXWELL: Lincoln: the measure of modern leadership  

6/9/2004 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

As Ronald Reagan is being apotheosized for his real and imagined accomplishments, more and more Americans are realizing that George W. Bush is imminently unqualified for the Oval Office. Even during the 2000 presidential campaign, I wrote that Bush was incapable of successfully leading the world’s only superpower.

Like millions of other voters, I want my president to be wise. I want him to have eloquent phraseology, self-assured speech and, most of all, I want my president to respect the elegance of truth.

Although Bush cannot deliver on any of the above, the least he can do is to stop campaigning long enough to read Mario M. Cuomo’s new book, Why Lincoln Matters Today More Than Ever (Harcourt, $24). This 183-page volume might help Bush grow personally, which would benefit the nation and the world.

Listen to what three of our nation’s intellectual icons say about Why Lincoln Matters:

+ Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: “Mario Cuomo is at home in the world of ideas as well as in the world of politics, and he is a long-time Lincoln scholar. Why Lincoln Matters is a thoughtful and challenging meditation on what Lincoln’s wisdom tells us we Americans should be doing today and tomorrow.”

+ Alan Dershowitz: “When our president sounds like a nineteenth-century fundamentalist preacher, the words of our greatest nineteenth-century president, Abraham Lincoln, are more and more relevant to our crises in the twenty-first century. Mario Cuomo tells us how this great wartime leader might have addressed the war on terrorism.”

+ Walter Cronkite: “In this brilliant presentation Mario Cuomo draws a devastating comparison between Lincoln’s vision of the American democracy and that of the George W. Bush administration.”

As Lincoln struggled with slavery, secession and the impending war between the states, he used his considerable intellect to articulate the principles and values that underpin our democracy and fuel our esprit de corps to this day. In his actions, speeches and writings, Lincoln created a fountain of wisdom that reflected his grasp of the Constitution, the Bible and the practical realities of the American experience.

Cuomo, a three-term governor of New York and an attorney, studied the body of Lincoln’s work, analyzed it and produced a sobering, easy-to-read guide for confronting current national and international issues.

A mythic figure in U.S. history, Lincoln is our most-consulted president. Why? Cuomo argues that, along with Lincoln’s unique accomplishments, our 16th president left an invaluable legacy of ideas, principles and vision. “Perhaps his greatest gift to us,” Cuomo writes, “was the lofty grandeur, soundness and durability of the wisdom he communicated to the nation and the world.”

Avoiding ad hominem, Cuomo makes the case for Lincoln’s relevance in 2004 and beyond:

“We need that wisdom today more than ever. Despite all the wealth and grandness so apparent in our great land, it is not clear that we know exactly what we want to be as a nation. Despite our unrivaled military and economic strength, we are unsure whether we should be the planet’s imperious dominator or its supportive, uplifting and unifying democratic inspiration. We have suddenly lost international credibility and become more isolated than at any time in recent history. We hunger for larger, better answers than we are receiving from our leaders. Lincoln can help us find those answers.”

All Americans who intend to vote in the November election should read Why Lincoln Matters and decide which candidate _ the incumbent or Democrat John Kerry _ best comprehends Lincoln’s ideas and values and will practice them.

Sometimes we need to use history and the examples of individuals to determine where we are and where we are going.