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Contributor

John Campbell

John Campbell (R-Irvine) is an Assemblyman representing the 70th District in Orange County. Mr. Campbell is the Vice-Chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. He is the only CPA in the California State legislature and recently received a national award as Freshman Republican Legislator of the Year. He represents the cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Irvine, Costa Mesa, Tustin, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Woods and Lake Forest. He can be reached through his Assembly website and through the website for his California Senate campaign. [go to Campbell index]

Will History Repeat?
Comparing George Bush with Abraham Lincoln.
..
[John Campbell] 6/25/04

An incumbent Republican President is running for re-election for a second term. The nation is at war. The war began during the incumbent's first term. This Republican president believes that fully prosecuting this war to complete victory and the replacement of the enemy's government is the right thing to do.

But the war is not going as smoothly as the public expected. The casualties are higher than many thought. The war is taking longer than conventional wisdom would have predicted and patience amongst the populace is being strained.

The Republican president never served in the regular army himself, but he is being challenged by a Democrat who is a veteran military officer. The Democrat's positions on the war have vacillated over time. But he now campaigns on a platform to sue for peace and to get America out of the war by almost any means, including retreat and evacuation of the occupied territory.

The election is expected to be close. Many believe that the victor will be determined by how the war is going at the time of the fall election.

And it was. Abraham Lincoln won. The election I was describing was the 1864 race between Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat George McClellan. But I could just as easily been describing Bush/Kerry, 2004.

We all revere Abraham Lincoln now as one of America's greatest Presidents. He saved the union and freed the slaves. Many of us can quote him at will from the Gettysburg address. It is hard for us now to imagine, 140 years later, that anyone could not have seen the greatness in the man at the time. We all know he was assassinated in office, but surely his election to that second term was never in doubt while the nation was engaged in that "great civil war." But it was actually very much in doubt at the time.

The Civil War was not going well for the Union in 1864. Casualties were mounting and military failures in Virginia seemed to be piling up one after another. After over 3 straight years of a war that many in the north thought would last less than 90 days, much of the public was growing tired of all the caskets without much progress.

Enter General George McClellan, A Democrat and a former commander of the Army of the Potomac who was fired by President Lincoln for being overly cautious and using the army as his "personal body-guard," in Lincoln's words. McClellan opposed the emancipation proclamation, calling it "infamous." He also ran on an anti-war platform that stated that "justice, humanity, liberty and the public welfare demand ...immediate efforts for a cessation of hostilities." Although, at one point in the campaign, General McClellan repudiated the Democratic platform, many pundits of the time predicted that President Lincoln would become a political casualty of emancipation and the civil war, and would lose. Lincoln's own doubts about his reelection were expressed in a letter to a friend in August of 1864 when he wrote, "You think I don't know I am going to be beaten, but I do and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten."

But Lincoln was a man of principle. He believed that the cause for which they were fighting was just, and that the union was worth saving. So, he persevered with the war. And then, a change did occur. On Sept. 4, 1864 General Sherman wrote, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won." The Union Army's capture of Atlanta was a major victory for the union and for President Lincoln. Public sentiment now turned back in favor of a war that again looked like it could be won. Lincoln's Democratic opponents then moved to personal attacks, calling his administration one of "ignorance, incompetancy and corruption."

As late as mid-October, Lincoln and his advisors predicted an election decided by only 3 electoral votes. But on Election Day in November 1864, President Lincoln was reelected with 55% of the popular vote, winning every state except New Jersey, Kentucky and Delaware. Historians believe that the turning point in the election was the fall of Atlanta and its effect on the voters.

But what if Atlanta hadn't fallen? Today, 140 years later, can we even imagine that the country would have thrown out arguably its greatest president? Can we imagine a world in which the Civil War was fought to a stalemate and the Confederate States of America were eventually allowed to exist with slavery in full force?

But it very nearly happened. In 2004, we have a similar choice. Now I don't know how history will judge the presidency of George W. Bush or the candidacy of John Kerry. But I do know that the similarities between this upcoming election and that of 1864 are striking. I do know that President Bush is a man of principle who is prosecuting this war fully because he believes it is a just cause in the best interests of our current union. And many of the arguments and public appeals made by John Kerry parallel those made by George McClellan. Withdraw from the conflict, they say, and let our opponents have their way and their territory, be they terrorists now or confederates then. The position of the Kerry/McClellans to get out of the war has public appeal. Until you remember why we are in the war in the first place, and what the consequences of not fighting it may be. CRO

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