Cheap Seats 2020
Primary Blues - 03/04
By Rich Trzupek
The election was about six months away. Everyone believed that it would be as important an election as an election could be, sure to set the course of the republic for decades to come. The stakes could hardly be higher.
The incumbent understood all that. He was anything but your typical politician, yet he had an instinctive flair for understanding and responding to the mood of the nation, or at least the mood of his supporters within the nation. It was a talent that his many opponents on both sides of the aisle found baffling and troubling.
He was an amateur who had somehow managed to best the professionals at their own game – at least temporarily anyhow – and rare is the professional who can honestly reassess their world view in the most forgiving of circumstances when bested by a newbie. They thus concluded that this brash, boisterous newcomer was but a short-term annoyance preying on the electorate’s basest fears.
The not-so-loyal opposition saw in the incumbent everything wrong with the blundering, poorly-educated, simple-minded portion of the electorate that had somehow managed to retain a voice in the American experiment. This president, they concluded, appealed to everything selfish and ignorant in America. He was boob who appealed to rubes. Many opponents laughed when one pundit pronounced him an ape. The label stuck among the snickering classes.
He did enjoy support among his own party, but that support was hardly universal. Some longed for a more polished, “civilized” candidate who would uphold the dignity of the office to which he was entrusted. A few brave souls openly challenged the incumbent for the nomination, but those efforts were half-hearted and ultimately doomed to fail.
It would be an election that would emphasize, as few of any elections had emphasized before, the divisions among us rather than the common principles and causes that unite us. To many, of all political persuasions, the election was as much a battle for America’s soul as it was a contest between two parties, two ideologies and the representatives of each. The wrong choice, everyone said, would rip the fabric of the nation asunder.
The incumbent understood all of this. Even his most vehement opponents were willing to admit that he had a unique ability to take the country’s temperature. There were times when he spoke from the heart in a way that managed to both uplift his supporters and enrage his detractors. Indeed, a speech that would eventually go down in history as a classic, moving piece of oratory that has known few equals before or since was roundly criticized by a collection of journalists who more or less served as the semi-official public relations arms of the president’s opponents.
One such publication, based in Chicago, dismissed the president’s soon-to-be-famous remarks as so much literary refuse, declaring that: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”
The president of the most powerful nation on earth was a focal point for the tumultuous issues of the day that so divided a great nation and so threatened its future. The incumbent understood that, but he viewed himself and his mission as the servants of the changes that those tumultuous times demanded, not as the force majeure creating the challenges.
Whether a majority of the electorate would agree with the president remained to be seen. That, he reflected solemnly, was a matter out of his control. He had made his case as best as he was able. He didn’t believe there was much more he could do and he resigned himself to following whatever fate decried.
Six months later the electorate spoke. Abraham Lincoln was re-elected to a second term as sixteenth President of the United Sates by a wide majority.