By Thomas DiLorenzo
According to his Wikipedia entry, New York Times house neocon David Brooks is a protégé of William Kristol – the two labeled themselves as “national greatness conservatives” back in the ‘90s; predicted in the Wall Street Journal in 2003 that American forces would be “welcomed as liberators” in Iraq; describes himself as a follower of Alexander Hamilton’s mercantilist economic agenda; has argued that Republicans should abandon completely the limited government philosophy that became popular (at least rhetorically) during the “Goldwater and Reagan years”; wrote his senior thesis at the University of Chicago about a book that argued that humans evolved from “killer apes” (that apparently caught the eye of William F. Buckley, Jr. who offered him a job); is often complimentary towards Barack Obama; and is the proud father of a son in the army – the Israeli Army, not the U.S. Army.
Translating from Washingtonese, this mean that he is somewhat of a fascist who looks down his nose at constitutionalism; an imperialist and propagandist for the state who earns his income spinning tall tales about the alleged benefits of aggressive war; and a nationalist who believes not in national but governmental “greatness.” These are all the main ingredients of a modern Lincoln cultist, as Brooks demonstrated in an April 7 New York Times column entitled “What Candidates Need.”
“I have two presidential election traditions,” Brooks wrote. “I begin covering each campaign by reading a book about Abraham Lincoln [probably not one by Yours Truly], and I end each election night, usually after midnight, at the statue of the Lincoln Memorial.”
Brooks should be credited with bravery for being anywhere in public in Washington, D.C., The Town That Lincoln Built, after midnight. He does not say if he holds a séance there, or just prays at the foot of the gigantic statue of the corporate lawyer/lobbyist in an armchair that is the Lincoln Memorial.
Reading most books about Lincoln by “Lincoln scholars” will generally make one stupid and misinformed, as Brooks very ably demonstrates. This is because all such books are bundles of excuses, phony rationales, and fabrications. They are all written like defense briefs in The War Crimes Trial of Abraham Lincoln, authored by third-rate lawyers or law students. Being a “Lincoln scholar” means fabricating an excuse for everything. The bigger and more elaborate the excuse, the more “prestigious” is the “Lincoln scholar.”
For example, when the high priestess of the Lincoln cult, Doris Kearns-Goodwin, wrote in her book, Team of Rivals, of how Lincoln was actually the source and promoter of the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery, she praised him for it. Rather than condemning him for supporting the explicit enshrinement of slavery in the text of the U.S. Constitution, Goodwin heaped praise on Lincoln because this slick political maneuver, she said, helped “save” the political fortunes of the Republican Party.
Another example is how, in his last book on Lincoln, Harry Jaffa tried for the ten-thousandth time in his career to explain away Lincoln’s admonition in one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates that he was “opposed to making voters or jurors of Negroes.” Lincoln opposed giving “Negroes” the right to vote in the 1850s, Jaffa wrote, so that they could have the right to vote in the 1950s. This of course is absurd nonsense but also a good example of the dishonest academic hocus pocus known as “Straussianism.”
Then there is the book, Lincoln’s Melancholy, by Joshua Wolf Shenk. The book describes Abe Lincoln’s various mental illnesses, including severe depression that caused wild mood swings, for which Abe took a mid-nineteenth-century “medicine” that contained a heavy dose of mercury. The book was showered with awards and made into a History Channel documentary.
Most thoughtful people would view this as alarming – that a man with severe mental illnesses was elected president. Predictably, the “spin” that Joshua Shen puts on these facts is that Lincoln’s mental illnesses somehow “fueled his greatness.” He was even greater than 150 years of Lincoln cultism has explained, said Shen, for he accomplished what he did despite the fact that he suffered from mental illness!
Having read a few books on Lincoln, Brooks is apparently familiar with many of the excuses of the Lincoln excuse-making industry. He mentions in his article that “Lincoln had very little formal education.” This is a bit of an understatement, since Lincoln’s formal education consisted of less than one year in elementary school. Again, this would seem alarming to some people but not the very model of a modern Lincoln cultist. Brooks repeats one of the canned excuses of the Lincoln cult by poo-pooing the usefulness of education. “Today we pile on years of education,” he sneered, and “cluster our students on campuses with people with similar grades and test scores.” Education Schmeducation.
Lincoln, on the other hand, “spent his formative years in daily contact with an astounding array of characters.” He admittedly didn’t read much (reminiscent of George W. Bush’s boast that he didn’t read anything), but what he did read he read “intensely,” says Brooks. How he knows how “intensely” Lincoln read is not explained.
Brooks praises Abe for believing in “hard work,” as though Abraham Lincoln was unique among nineteenth-century Americans in that regard. Brooks praises Lincoln’s “moral vision” that included “a government that built canals and railroads and banks . . .” This, however, was a profoundly immoral vision for it was based in the immoral mercantilist agenda of corporate welfare for canal-building and railroad corporations. By Lincoln’s time there already had been several decades of immense corruption and financial disaster surrounding state government subsidies for such “internal improvements,” including a colossal financial debacle in Illinois that was the work of Illinois state legislator Abraham Lincoln, leader of the Whig Party in the state in the late 1830s.
The original national bank – the Bank of the United States – was so corrupt and economically destabilizing that Congress refused to renew its original charter, and President Andrew Jackson successfully vetoed its refunding. This “Whiggish vision” of political corruption based on economic ignorance was Lincoln’s “north star,” writes David Brooks.
Brooks has apparently read Lincoln’s Melancholy, for in his Times article he repeats the standard excuse but with a minor twist: “His experience of depression and suffering gave him a radical self-honesty.” To some, severe depression that gives a person a psychotic split personality is worrisome; to David Brooks, it meant in Lincoln’s case that “He had the double-minded personality that we need in all our leaders.”
Brooks says that Lincoln was “an exceptionally poor hater,” yet he micromanaged the waging of war on Southern civilians for four long years and praised and promoted generals like Sherman who committed these war crimes. He was supposedly “able to see his enemy’s point of view,” yet he refused to meet with Confederate Peace Commissioners before the war to discuss Southern payments for federal property, and endorsed a military policy of unconditional surrender.
Brooks ends his farcical article with the sad declaration that in the next presidential election, “We will not get a Lincoln.” Amen to that.