In honor of Dick Goodwin’s passing this week, today we’re going to try something a little different. Goodwin was the speechwriter behind many of the most important speeches of the last century, from Bobby Kennedy and LBJ to Al Gore, Goodwin wrote for them all.
While we struggle to keep our head above the masses of stories breaking, each pulling our attention into a different direction, none of them telling a complete story, and all of them confirming our individual take on the cultural crisis we find ourselves in, we all could use the sweeping rhetoric of men like Goodwin.
In 1858, a young lawyer from Illinois who had just been nominated by the new Republican party for the Senate gave a speech on the steps of the Springfield capital. He said:
“A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”
Abraham Lincoln later went on to become President, presiding over the Civil War.
Our times are not dissimilar from his, our house divided not on a single issue, but on many. We have existential differences on the very idea of America.
Are we a people that fears immigrants, or are we a people that lifts our lamp beside our golden door?
Are we a people who hold sacred the right to speak freely, unabridged by government restriction, or are we a people who limit dissenting opinion?
Do we believe that all citizens are guaranteed the inalienable right to life, or do we believe that the right to bear arms is more important?
Can we truly be one people under the Rule of Law, or should our leaders be exempt from those restrictions?
In 2004, Barack Obama, another young senator from Illinois who later became President, also reminded us of the hope that we are less different than we are similar.
“Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope: In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead. […] I believe that we have a righteous wind at our backs, and that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices and meet the challenges that face us.”
Like President Lincoln, I too don’t believe that the house will fall, but that it will cease to be divided, The Republic must become all one thing or the other. We can only have the audacity to hope that we unite behind the greater justice of an equal democracy. We can dream of a brighter tomorrow, after the darkness of today.
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
– Richard Goodwin – December 7, 1931 – May 20, 2018
My name is Mckay Williams and this was your Daily Brief:
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