New direction

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(Host) If we’re serious about burying campaign hatchets and promoting a new spirit of compromise in politics, commentator David Moats thinks we should consider the example set by Abraham Lincoln at the close of the Civil War.

(MOATS) Lincoln was consulting his cabinet on Good Friday, 1865. The Civil War was over, and they were talking about to treat teh southern states states – with policies that were punitive or lenient.

During the discussion, Lincoln said this: “We must extinguish our resentments if we expect harmony and union.”

That night Lincoln was shot and killed.

Resentments were not extinguished, and harmony and union did not follow.

None of the leaders left behind after Lincoln’s death had the magnanimity or largeness of spirit to rise above the hatreds that were the legacy of the Civil War.

Before his death Lincoln had instructed Grant and others that they should not impose punitive measures on the rebel soldiers.

Lincoln even told his subordinates that if they could avoid it, everyone would be better off if they somehow failed to capture Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

These thoughts come to mind following the bitter election of 2006.

The divisions we’re experiencing now are nowhere near as deep as those at the time of the Civil War.

But damaging resentments persist in the body politic like poisonous chemicals persisting in the environment.

It’s hard to see, as Lincoln might counsel us, how these resentments might be extinguished.

Democrats took the House and Senate, fueled in part by resentments built up over six years of political warfare.

They have a long list of grievances – Florida, Iraq, New Orleans, to name three – and little sense that the Republicans will be willing to set aside their own resentments in the interest of harmony and union.

And yet I think people are hungering for leadership from someone large enough in spirit that he – or she – could render ineffectual the politics of pettiness and deceit.

This is not a matter of Republican or Democrat.

The question that haunts us is whether statesmanship is possible anymore, or whether success in politics depends on a conscience-free descent into the gutter.

Lincoln was so generous and visionary that even rivals in his own cabinet who were plotting against him received fair treatment from him.

He managed to contain within his cabinet radical anti-slavery Republicans and conservative former Democrats, and keeping his cabinet united was a means of keeping the nation united.

He was a politician who knew how to maneuver for his own gain, but he always kept before him a good that was higher than the satisfactions of victory or revenge.

That good was the survival of the Union and what he hoped would be the peaceful reunification of the nation.

Most of us, whether we’re evangelical Republicans or anti-war Democrats, have our resentments, but we’re looking for a way to rise above them, to promote leadership based on truthfulness and the common good.

If we’re to head in a new direction, that’s the direction in which we ought to head.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

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