Rich Lowry On Lincoln Unbound
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HH: I’m kicking off three days of my own private sesquicentennial celebration of the end of the siege of Vicksburg and the Battle of Gettysburg today, tomorrow and Friday. On Friday, I’ll be joined by Victor Davis Hanson and Larry Arnn talking about the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War generally. Tomorrow, Harry Jaffa joins me to talk about the Declaration of Independence and the roots of that conflict. Next hour, I’m going to be joined by Jeff Shaara, whose new book on Vicksburg has just come out, and you do not want to miss that amazing novel. More coming up on that next hour, but I begin my three day sesquicentennial celebration with none other than Rich Lowry, who’s the editor of National Review and has been for a decade and a half. He’s of course a syndicated columnist. You see him a lot on Fox News. And he’s the author of a terrific new book in bookstores now, Lincoln Unbound: How An Ambitious Young Rail-Splitter Saved The American Dream, And How We Can Do It Again. Rich Lowry, welcome. Did you know you were kicking of the sesquicentennial on the Hugh Hewitt Show?
RL: I’m honored. I even can’t say it, so that’s how honored I am, Hugh.
HH: You know, obviously your book came out a few weeks ago, but I saved it for this 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, because the address that we associate with the battle, though given in November following the battle, marks a huge moment in American history that you write about extensively. And so let’s start right there. Why did Lincoln end up having to give the Gettysburg address the way that he did, given his political theory?
RL: Well, it goes to his entire philosophy. And I go, I don’t deal much with the Civil War or events during the war. I deal more with the philosophy, the philosophical clashes that led to the war, and the consequences of the war and what Lincoln believed in the run up to all this, which really goes back to his upbringing. He was a champion, and exemplar of opportunity. He thought we have these free institutions to protect opportunity, and he had two grand ambitions in his career. One was to end the isolation where he had grown up in that he thought blighted opportunity, and then to end slavery in the South, which obviously blights opportunity by definition of an entire class of people, and also blighted opportunities for poor whites, because if you didn’t have gangs of slaves working on your fields, it made it really hard to compete with plantations.
HH: But he also, and you write at great length, and one of the reasons I appreciate Lincoln Unbound, is he revered Jefferson, he revered the founders, and in a way that I don’t think many modern American politicians really do. He studied them, and he knew what they stood for. The Declaration, to him, was a work of genius.
RL: Yeah. Well, you know, we tend to celebrate whatever is new in American culture. He unabashedly talked about what was old. And he called the founders those old-time men. He called the Declaration that old Declaration of Independence. He referred to it as their old faith. And throughout the 1850s, Lincoln’s rhetoric is infused with a sense of loss, because the thought there was a shameful backsliding in the country where the founders had tolerated slavery, because they didn’t see any easy way to get rid of it, but they were embarrassed by it. It’s not mentioned in the Constitution. And then in the South, you had the school of thought rising up in the 1850s that was a more affirmative and positive defense of slavery, saying it’s an institution from God. So Lincoln was profoundly depressed by this, and there are just these ringing statements where he says thing like our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust. Let us re-purify and wash it white in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution. And for me, that gets to the fundamental conservative nature of Lincoln’s project, ultimately. He wanted to forge progress in the country. He wanted to make us enhance opportunity in the country. But he wanted to do it through returning to our founding ideals. And that’s what conservatives in America should always be seeking.
HH: Now I don’t want to overlook any part of the book, but I would encourage everyone who picks up Lincoln Unbound to make sure they read the chapter on Our Fathers, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and the Purpose Of America, because I think it is, it’ll give a whole understanding to why 660,000 people died in the Civil War, and why Lincoln acted the way that he did, and how that drama came to be. But Rich, let’s give a quick history lesson here, because you do such a fine job, by the way, of telling people who the Whigs are, where Henry Clay fits into this…
HH: …who Lincoln was, but it begins with the Missouri Compromise. And then Lincoln is reenergized by the abrogation of that compromise in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Walk people through this crucial phase of American history.
RL: Well, you had this line through the middle of the country dividing the North and the South, and slavery was going to be allowed to extend south of that line, and north of the line was going to be guaranteed for freedom. And that was the basic arrangement until the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which just shepherded the passage by Lincoln’s great rival, and not just a great rival in the Senate race in 1950, but who was a great rival really his entire political career, because they came up together in Illinois, Stephen Douglas. And there was a lot of argument about why Douglas did this, but one reason was he wanted to get a transcontinental railroad across the country, and he needed to get an agreement on a route, and he thought he could only get the South to go along if he gave them the…
HH: Kansas-Nebraska Act, yeah.
RL: …sweet deal of erasing that line and going to popular sovereignty, meaning any state, any territory, anywhere could welcome slavery. And for Lincoln, this was just an abrogation, as we were discussing earlier, of the understanding we started with, with the founders, which was basically that slavery was going to be kind of bound in and circumscribed, and eventually go extinct. Lincoln sees this and the Dred Scott decision as actually slavery on the march, and the advocates of slavery become more aggressive, not just philosophically in what they say about it, but on the ground.
HH: I’ve got to read from Page 151 of Rich Lowry’s new book, Lincoln Unbound. “That was the backdrop, the Missouri Compromise, it’s abrogation to Lincoln’s combat with Douglas. The legendary affair between the two raged much more widely than the immortal seven debates. The two traveled a collective ten thousand miles. Lincoln gave 63 speeches, usually about two hours in length. Douglas gave 130, an account that included shorter, improvised remarks, and it almost lost his voice by the end. Lincoln wasn’t as well known, of course. Papers outside of Illinois were liable to spell his name Abram. And the New York Sun unaccountably dubbed him Abramham R. Lincoln. But Douglas knew he was up against. ‘I shall have my hands full.’” You go on to write, Rich Lowry, that, “Douglas was idolized by his followers. Lincoln was loved. Douglas was the representative of his partisans. Lincoln was the representative man of the unsophisticated people.” What a beautiful summary.
RL: Yeah, well thank you. Well, Douglas was a formidable figure, and Lincoln, in the 1850s, when he leaves his Congress, just has one term, goes back to Illinois where Whigs aren’t elected to statewide office in Illinois. It never happens. So his political career looks as though it’s basically over, and here’s Douglas, this world famous Senator, this potential presidential candidate, and Lincoln writes this heartbreaking little note to himself. You know, I’ve known him for 23 years, we’re both ambitious, maybe me, maybe I’m a little more ambitious than he is, and he is a wonderful success in the race of life, and I’m a flat failure. And then you have this wonderful drama, obviously, in 1855, the first Senate campaign of this nature, because the state legislatures then elected the Senators. So usually, you didn’t have any campaign whatsoever. You just had lobbying among the new legislature to elect the Senators. And instead, you have this wonderful campaign with such wonderful pageantry, and it goes down, Hugh, and Harry Jaffa can obviously tell you much more about this than I can, but the basic question of natural rights. Do they exist? And do they exist for all time or not? And a lot of people criticized, even on the right, Lincoln for being, you know, supposedly the father of big government. Well, natural rights are the ultimate check on government. And Douglas’ argument was that blacks aren’t people, there are no natural rights except maybe for white people. And if people vote to do anything to a certain class of people, there’s no serious check on it. And Lincoln said no, I may not believe in civil rights for blacks, I might not be ready for that. But I do believe they’re human beings. I do believe they have this basic right, which is when you earn something, you get to keep it. And that’s a principle that Lincoln felt very deeply in how own personal life. He resented his father, because his father hired him out and took the proceeds of his labor when he was working as a kid. And he famously, in the Second Inaugural, he called slavery unrequited toil. It violates this basic principle of all existence that even insects feel. You know, he has this little fragment he wrote for himself about an ant. If an ant picks up a crumb and drags it to the nest, the ant knows through its labor, that crumb belongs to it.
HH: When we come back from break, I’m going to talk with Rich Lowry about Lincoln’s youth, about that, especially about his time as a hard-working, young, laboring, ambitious, ambitious man, and how he was a Whig, and believed in a certain kind of American exceptionalism. But before we go, just a bit more on Lincoln-Douglas debates. It’s so beautifully summed up. “The events made for rollicking, open pageants of democracy,” Rich Lowry writes. “They drew thousands straining to hear the two men disclaiming from the same platforms with people jockeying for position near the candidates, and some clamoring up with them. Douglas’ voice was booming, Lincoln’s high and piercing, making it easier to hear. The partisans of the rivals faced off with competing parades, brass bands, banners, hecklers and salutes by cannon. ‘The prairies,’ wrote a New York journalist, ‘are on fire.’” We just don’t remember this, do we, Rich? Was this all a surprise to you?
RL: It’s really wonderful to revisit it. You know, they’re a hallowed event, so you think they must have been great. But one thing I love about it is just how small d democratic they were, how informal they were. There is one, I forget which town it was, now, but a little kid climbed up on the platform and sat on Douglas’ lap while Lincoln talked, and sat on Lincoln’s lap while Douglas talked. So that was incredible intimacy. And then just the yearning, Hugh, of people for words, and for verbal combat, and verbal argument, that’s something this culture has lost and will never regain ever again.
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HH: And I want to recommend it to all of you out there who are daunted by all the Carl Sandburg’s and the eight volumes, and even Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wonderful A Team Of Rivals look at you like this giant brick. If you want to begin at the beginning and get to the end, and do so in a way that will tell you about who Lincoln is, Lincoln Unbound really does that. And I’ve got to ask Rich Lowry, I was amazed that you would be so forward as to take up Lincoln. It’s scary to take up Lincoln. How long did you have to struggle to say, I mean, Bill O’Reilly doesn’t faze me at all. Oh, yeah, let’s do a book on Lincoln. But you’re a serious intellectual. You knew what this meant.
RL: Yeah, well, there are many times I asked myself that, Hugh, during the two year process of writing this. But it really was a labor of love. I love the story of his rise, and the more I delved into it, the more I was convinced that really undergirds everything about his policies and his politics. And so aspiration and opportunity are two of my favorite American values, and I think also they are both under threat in the country today. So I think this is the essential Lincoln, this is the why undergirding everything he did, and it’s especially important to recapture this at this moment in the country’s history.
HH: Let me tell you what I love especially you rediscover. He has a rigorous mind. Everyone assumes that. The uncanny memory, everyone assumes that. But what a thorough partisan, what a man of party.
RL: Oh, yeah.
HH: And I’ve always been proud to be a partisan. I’ve always said, you know, I’m a Republican, I’m a man of the party, and I’ve never ever been ashamed of that. And Lincoln was a Whig until it collapsed, and for reasons we can talk about. But he was one absolutely serious politician.
RL: Serious politician and slashing politician. There were these famous things called skinnings, and one of them, a politician, Lincoln mocked him and imitated him on the stage, and ridiculed him, and he ran off in tears. And Lincoln eventually had to apologize. He actually almost fought a duel, because he would write these excoriating, anonymous newspaper articles mocking Democrats. He did it to the state auditor. The state auditor found out that Lincoln wrote it, challenged him to a duel. And really, Lincoln is not the dueling type, but you can’t say no, or you’re going to be dishonored and embarrassed, so he says yes, and he gets to pick the weapons. He picked cavalry broadswords, which is a very odd weapon, until you realize he had probably like a foot reach on this guy. And eventually, the dispute was adjudicated and went away. And someone asked him, were you just kind of making fun of the whole process by choosing swords? And he was like no, I was afraid if we did pistols, the guy would shoot and kill me. But this is what a partisan he was. And the edges got smoothed away a little bit as he got older, but Lincoln never would have been embarrassed by being a party man. He thought that was something deeply honorable.
HH: I also am pleased you began a discussion, or you prefaced a discussion about what he believed with how he grew up. And not just the fact he was a voracious reader, and I don’t want to spend a moment on that, but on the fact that he worked so hard. He was a brawler, but he was very much a middle class moralist, I think our friends on the left would call him today.
HH: Something of a temperance nut, a teetotaler. What was the story you told about being a ride with a gentleman who offered him…
RL: Yeah, well, it’s a time in America where the country was soaked in alcohol, soaked in tobacco, and coarse language was common. Lincoln didn’t drink, smoke or swear. And he used to tell a story on himself about being in a railway car with a gentleman from Kentucky. The gentleman offers him a shot of whiskey. No thanks. He offers him a fine cigar. No thanks. Offers him chewing tobacco. No thanks. Finally, the Kentucky gentleman, very frustrated, says sir, I want to tell you something I’ve learned in life. Lincoln says what is it? and the gentleman says he who has damn few vices has damn few virtues. But Lincoln was a countercultural figure in a lot of ways, because he grows up in an area where everyone is a Democrat, everyone worships Andrew Jackson. And although Lincoln loved Jefferson’s Declaration, he didn’t love his economics so much. And the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democrats, they worshipped agrarianism, they romanticized it, they thought it was a uniquely virtuous way of life. Lincoln had been in it up to his eyeballs as a kid, never wanted to have anything to do with it whatsoever. And we associate him with axes and mauls and rail-splitting. The story that really captures him is one he told in the White House about how when he was a young man, he was on the Ohio River there with a rowboat. Two gentleman drive up in a carriage with the luggage. They want Lincoln to row them out to a steamboat. They’re meeting in the middle of the river. He does it gladly, helps them with their luggage. They get on the steamer, and he says wait a minute, you didn’t pay me. And they both to his shock throw a silver half dollar down in the bottom of his boat. And decades letter in the White House, he says I knew at that moment I earned my first dollar. I was a more hopeful and optimistic being from that time. And that’s the kind of economy he wanted to create, where he could earn money, and you had to earn money. So he wanted to blow up the subsistence economy, which was so limited that he grew up in. And how do you do this? You do it with banks, you do it with industry, you do it with canals, you do it with railways.
HH: You know what I also loved, there’s a story which was new to me. I did not know he took a 1,200 mile journey down the Mississippi to New Orleans with a farmer or a trader’s son, trading the whole way, making a buck, and without law, without regulation, but just the old-fashioned…and then he came back up. What was he, 18, 17?
RL: Yeah, he made, I guess, two of those trips, and this was really, the only way you could get goods to market then was if you were near a river. And Lincoln was attracted to rivers, he was attracted to merchants. They say there was a merchant whose store he hung around in who made him a wig initially. It was a merchant that he went down to New Orleans with in his second trip who really took a liking to him, and hired Lincoln to work in a story in New Salem that really gave him his start. And again, all this was kind of counter to the subsistence, agricultural world that he grew up in.
HH: And now you write about an ambition that knew no rest in summarizing Lincoln. It wasn’t just monetary, though. And the couplet that you quote at Chapter One, “Good boys who to their books apply will make great men by and by,” he had an ambition to be someone.
RL: Yeah, and to be something better. And he realized he had this exceptional ability from the first, and some people around him did, and importantly, his step-mother, who was a great blessing to him, and that he adored and called mother. But he wanted to not make his way with his brawn. He wanted to do it with his mind and with his tongue, so he becomes a politician and he becomes a lawyer, and he wanted to make it possible for other people to do the same. But one of the key insights of the Whigs, outside of their economics, was their cultural program. And the word they loved was improvement. Now they referred to transportation projects as improvements, but self-improvement was also a huge part of it. And that’s where the reading comes in. You know, it’s not something you do for pleasure. It’s not something you do for leisure. It’s something you do as a discipline. That’s where the temperance comes in. You know, you’re not going to get ahead if you’re drunk all the time. And that’s where the alliance with the Evangelicals of the time comes in, because they support the basic virtues that make possible aspiration.
HH: Rich Lowry, in the minute until the break, tell people about his reading habit.
RL: Well, he would just basically read whenever he could. There were stories that he would, you know, if he was plowing a field, when he’d give the horse a little rest, out would come the book, and he would read. When he was walking from one place to another, out would come the book. And this is how he makes himself a lawyer. And when people would ask him, once he’d become a lawyer, how do I become a lawyer, an aspiring student? He would say work, work, work is the main thing. All you have to do is pick up the books, and read and read and read. And again, that’s a fundamentally Lincolnian sentiment, a very Whig sentiment.
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HH: But Rich Lowry, at the beginning, in the introduction of Lincoln Unbound, I must say I’m pleased that your book begins with Ohio’s 166th Regiment stopping by the White House, and with a note that when Lincoln addressed him, he referred to himself as a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has. That sums up so much about him and about his political theory. Explain to people why.
RL: Yeah, well, one, it’s very telling, that awkward reference to father’s child. And I think it’s just avoiding using the first person…
RL: …which goes to a certain modesty. But he gave this wonderful little speech. It must have been only two or three minutes when it was spoken, and he talked about how our free institutions guarantee equal privileges to everyone, to make the most of their industry and their intelligence in the race of life. And that’s another key Lincolnian phrase, race of life, he used over and over again, which showed there was a kind of, he had a competitive view of life. It was a race to see if you could make the most of yourself. And he said how this equal opportunity was an inestimable jewel, and that’s what the war was over, and it was worth fighting for, to preserve such a thing.
HH: Now Rich Lowry, interestingly, when you talk about the refusal to use the I word, I thought disparagingly of President Obama’s almost dependence upon it.
HH: At the same time, when I wrote a book critical of President Obama last year, I really blasted his excoriations of the American character, in which he said you know, we’ve lost it, we’ve gotten soft. And then I come at the end of Lincoln Unbound to find that in the 1850s, Lincoln had many of the same sentiments, writing to George Robertson, “We are not what we have been. We have grown fat.” And in many respects, President Obama was channeling a little Lincoln, well, regret over the state of the country?
RL: Yeah, towards different ends, obviously, but there’s also just, with the holiday coming up here, in one of those letters to Robertson, Lincoln says oh, July 4th is still a great holiday for setting off firecrackers, but for nothing else. We’ve lost touch with our ideals. And it comes back to, Lincoln comes back again and again obviously to the Declaration of Independence. And the case he makes is it could have just been a catalogue of this long train of abuses we had suffered at the hand of the British. But no, the founders put that philosophical guidepost there. And Lincoln says it was there to exist for all time and to pull us back constantly to those ideals. And that’s the way he used it, that’s the way it should always be used in American history. And there’s a paraphrase from, I believe, a line in Proverbs where Lincoln says that the Declaration is the Golden Apple. The Constitution is a silver frame. Both are necessary. The Declaration sets out the purposes of American government, and the Constitution is how you achieve them.
HH: Now let’s talk for just a moment about the Whigs, but first about Henry Clay, because this is the man who Lincoln nearly idolized. And there aren’t many people who even know who Henry Clay, the great compromiser, is today. So why did he so admire him? And who was this man?
RL: Well, Henry Clay was a great statesman of the time. He is often credited, although it’s not true, for using the phrase self-made man for the first time in American history, or popularizing it. And he had this Whig program that attempted to diversify and enliven the country’s economy through various means of development. And then Clay also stood for the certain cultural type that was counter to the cultural type represented by Andrew Jackson, the hero of the democrats. Andrew Jackson is a natural man. You know, he has these volcanic passions, and the beauty of him is he doesn’t control them. He looses them in the cause of righteousness. And that’s what the Democrats liked about Jackson. Clay is the opposite. He has all the same natural tendencies as Jackson. He’s a duelist and a gambler and all the rest of it, but he attempts to control them. So he is the hero of the Whigs, this man who just doesn’t want to accept the country naturally the way it is. He wants to industrialize it, and grow a market where it’s not quite there, yet, and he also exemplifies a culture of self-discipline. And Lincoln was drawn to Henry Clay instinctively.
HH: What was Lincoln, 30 seconds to the break, Rich Lowry? Was he anti-aristocratic? Did he have contempt for eastern elites?
RL: He had contempt for what he considered the aristocracy of the South. He didn’t like elitism, but on the other hand, he hated people who engaged in class warfare. He famously said to a delegation of working men in the Civil War, let not him who is houseless tear down the house of another.
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HH: That’s where I want to turn, Rich, before we run out of time this hour, to Chapter Six: Work, Work, Work: Recovering The Lincoln Ethic, because when you set out to write this, you weren’t just looking backwards. You were looking forwards as well.
RL: Yeah, and I think we have a crisis of opportunity in this country. and it’s not inequality, which the left focuses so much on, which is obviously inevitable in a free society. And the kind of trends we’ve seen in this country have held true across all advance Western countries. I think the metric we should focus on more is mobility. And this is all very complicated, the international comparisons, but if you look at them in the kind of broadest brush, you have Western European countries that are more mobile than we are, other English-speaking countries more mobile, Scandinavian countries more mobile. We’re having trouble getting people from the bottom up. And I really fear that we are not seeing, it’s not just a product of economic trends, it’s a product of social breakdown where you’re seeing an erosion of marriage, an erosion of the work ethic. And if you divide the country up by thirds by level of education, the people that have a college degree or more have kind of figured it out. The illegitimacy rate is 6%. They spend tons of time with their kids. They spend tons of time working. Whereas you look at the middle, the kind of what should be the solid middle America, and in 1982, the illegitimacy rate there was 14%. Now, it’s 44%.
RL: And that’s much closer to the lower end than to the upper end. And if that trend continues, I think you’re going to see a kind of class society in America that is deeply inimical to our ideals. We’ll still be called America, we’ll still be rich, and we’ll still be powerful, but we won’t be the country we were or the country we should be.
HH: Now Rich, I’m not sure in my notes where this is in the book, but you wrote, rather alarmingly, that if Horatio Alger was writing today, he’d write about Finland, not about the United States, because to make it from nothing to everything as Lincoln did is simply not what defines us today as it defined us then.
RL: Yeah, and I think, you know, this is a tough nut to crack, but the basic program I would like to see conservatives think of, and to kind of fill in with policy, is a Lincolnian trinity of one, what do you do to make the economy as dynamic as possible, and that we kind of all know, right? That’s common sense. Two, what do we do to enhance education, something we also tend to focus on. And three, this is the one I think tends to get neglected. What do we do to forge a revival of the bourgeois virtues as I call them in the book? And this isn’t Bible-thumping stuff. You don’t have to be moralizing when you’re talking about it But the real basics of marriage, work, self-discipline, delayed gratification, self-improvement, we’re seeing an erosion of those. And if you don’t have those, it just makes everything else harder, if not impossible.
HH: Let’s run through some of the key Lincoln attributes. Towards the end of the book, you write, “Embrace what is new.” Explain.
RL: Well, he had zero economic nostalgia himself. And he, as I mentioned earlier, he really wanted to blow up the world that he lived in, which was defined by a subsistence economy. And as soon as you get a railroad to one of these hinterland areas, the market comes there. Then, these farmers can buy manufactured goods from the East, they can buy clothing from the East. Then, they need cash to do that. Then, they need to grow for the market. So instantly, they become market players. And Lincoln didn’t have the least hesitation about forging that change. In fact, it’s what he desperately wanted to do his entire career.
HH: He would be an international trader. You do say welcome immigrants. And I agree with that, although I don’t like the current iteration of the bill. I spent the last two weeks talking about how Corker-Hoeven screwed the whole thing up. But he was very pro-immigrant, and I’d have to think he’d be very pro-international trade.
RL: You know, I think so, but that’s a tricky one, because you know, he favored a tariff. Now it was in the context of the time.
RL: And when Republicans then really had an ambition to forge an independent America, or we weren’t just growing goods to ship over to Britain so they could manufacture them, we wanted to manufacture them ourselves. So I have a little trouble seeing exactly where he would come down on trade.
HH: You know, after you wrote about the Mississippi, I don’t think I would. I think he’d want to send whatever we could wherever it could get, and stay out of the way of it. Yes, he did want to build that internal empire…
RL: Yeah, it could be. It could be.
HH: But once it’s built…
HH: I mean, it’s built.
HH: Well, let’s talk about what we can’t disagree on, emphasizing education and building infrastructure, because he believed in both.
RL: Yeah, so education, I mean, Lincoln’s story is an exaggerated version of what the American story is. His dad, basically no schooling at all, could barely sign his name. His mom and a step-mom both just sign X’s, can’t sign their names. Lincoln, one year formal schooling, and what happens to his son? His son goes to Harvard, okay? And the experts say one of the reasons we have growing inequality is just we’ve had this amazing area of technological change where in past eras, you had the education catching up to it, right? You had constant improvement, and people getting more education. We’re falling down on that front. We have a broken system, not just K-12, but college. Infrastructure…sorry, go ahead.
HH: Go ahead, infrastructure.
RL: Yeah, I was going to say infrastructure, I mean, this is where Obama says oh, Lincoln was a great government activist in my tradition. And he did have a much more positive attitude toward government than either of we do, but it was a different kind of government, right? There was no welfare state, no income transfers, and he supported government assistance for canals and railroads, because then, you didn’t have sophisticated financial markets, you didn’t have angel investors, you didn’t have big industrialists. If you’re going to do these big projects, there had to be an element of government support. And even though the word investment is one of the most abused words in our politics, there are certain things that genuinely are investments. The Erie Canal changed an entire region and paid for itself almost immediately.
HH: He wouldn’t have spent a trillion dollars with nothing to point at, at the end of it.
RL: Correct. Yeah, he wouldn’t spend a trillion dollars on guardrails and some lines in the road. And that’s another thing I’m very confident in saying he’d be appalled by today, is the regulation that stops development. This is a guy who’s thrilled to developing the country. He would be, it would just be anathema and confounding to him all we do to wrap ourselves in red tape, and make it impossible to build things, which is another reason we had a big stimulus bill with nothing to show for it.
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HH: Rich, I wanted to finish, and we only have three minutes, by talking about three things – the Homestead Act, exploiting natural resources, and what you said Lincoln’s view of the interests of the common worker must be, which is always central to the American vision.
RL: Yeah, he was a little bit of a latecomer to the Homestead Act, because he was not rustic at all. So he didn’t really like the idea of sending people out onto the land. But it was gospel among his fellow Republicans, and eventually he swung around. And one way to look at it, it was a big privatization…
RL: …of government resource, and obviously enabled people to make their own way.
HH: And what about this exploiting our resources, and paying attention to the common worker?
RL: Yeah, you read the Thanksgiving proclamations, and he’s thanking God we have so many mines in America. So he’d be doing somersaults over fracking. He’d want to bathe in fracking fluid. The Keystone Pipeline? He’d build it himself, he’d be so delighted by the prospect. And beyond all the wonderful effects we know about from exploiting fossil fuels, those are good, blue-collar jobs. And that we are privileging people obsessed with something that might not even be a threat, global warming, at the cost of those kind of jobs, when we have this sort of economy we do now, is just a travesty.
HH: And then you finally conclude by talking about what the Republican Party needs to do about embracing its founder. You say, “It needs Lincoln’s emphasis on uplift delivered in his populist voice.” You are not calling for Rand Paul to win here.
RL: (laughing) Yeah, I think everything has to be through opportunity and aspiration. And if we’re just cutting government as a matter of principle in cutting government, that gets us 35% of people, but it doesn’t get you to 51%. You get to 51% by saying no, we are, through our limited government principles, are going to make it possible for more people to rise in this country.
HH: Last question. Obviously, whenever you touch Lincoln, a thousand people come out of the woodwork to either criticize or praise you. How’s the reaction to Lincoln Unbound been, Rich?
RL: It’s been mostly positive, but there are Lincoln haters on the right. He still divides the right, and we could have an hour-long discussion about this. It goes to the legitimacy of secession. And there’s so much myth out there. If you read the declarations of secession of the first seven states, they went because of slavery. And they were quite explicit about it. They were proud of it, because they thought it was such a wonderful institution. But unfortunately, some of our friends kind of turn their back on that and have a very stilted view of Abraham Lincoln as a result.
HH: Well, I’m glad that you have put the founder of the party we both love back at the center of it. Lincoln Unbound is the brand new book by Rich Lowy. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com. It’s in bookstores everywhere. You’re going to love it, America. Go and begin your long weekend with Lincoln Unbound.
End of interview.