Abe Lincoln Recalled As Lack Of Herd Immunity Lessons Travels

Abe Lincoln and Gregory Humphrey, one of his fond admirers. 2017 Gettysburg.

David McCullough writes a line in his book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For that stands out as pure truth. “History is both now and then, today and yesterday.”

Several years ago McCullough appeared on the Charlie Rose show and spoke in his usually eloquent way about why people need to see this country’s national parks and historic sites. He spoke about the need to show young people the wonders of the past. Connecting with the touchstones of the past is exactly the very thing McCullough urged.

It has not been possible, given the pandemic, for any type of vacation which allows for historic sites to be seen up close. With too many places around the nation not understanding the medical and economic reasons to be vaccinated means we stay home and keep the money in the bank. With the logic of herd immunity not understood by too many means the bottom line for all sorts of tourist-related businesses will suffer as many folks around the nation feel as we do about personal safety.

But that does not mean fond recollections are not able to be tapped into and relived.

In 2017, for ten days, James and I made our way to the famed sites in Washington D.C. where monuments and buildings have awed millions. This morning as I poured coffee into my Gettysburg cup–a site we traveled to that year–I thought of the night we walked to the Lincoln Memorial.

To see the Lincoln Memorial in daylight is one thing, as I did on my first trip to D.C. in 1987, but to stand in the lighted wonder at night and ponder the man is quite another.  During that trip I found myself talking to many people day after day, and asking them their impressions. I sought out ones who I thought might lend the best insights.

As such I asked a black woman who was age 88 what she was feeling about the Lincoln Memorial as we both stood in the lights that summer night with humidity clinging all about. It was her first time to see it and being from Jamaica she spoke as one who knew of the power Lincoln’s words gave to those outside this nation. “It is very powerful for everyone,” she said with soft words and dark knowing eyes.

On the backside of the memorial looking out across the Potomac  I spoke to a father and then told his young teenage children about the battle of First Bull Run and how many townspeople took carriages and boxed lunches to watch the battle as many felt the war would be a short-term operation.  Hours later the beaten and badly wounded soldiers would be limping or being carried back over the river into Washington.  Some without shoes, others without guns, others without an eye or limb.   It was interesting to see the young look out and hear of the events and perhaps in their mind see history play out.   (As McCullough hoped would happen.)

I know at some point, not this year I fear, we will turn the corner on COVID, and find the ability to travel again and seek out the sites and memories from the pages of history. We will follow through, again, on the sage advice from McCullough.

Until then, we open the pages of our own personal histories and relive days of travel and discovery.

And so it goes.

Colorful Louisiana Politician Dead, Edwin Edwards Was 93

While there are plenty of politicians in the nation, few can be called perfect copy for a political reporter. Former Governor Edwin W. Edwards was such an office seeker and holder. Saint and sinner. Lawmaker and lawbreaker. As I said, perfect copy.

Consider the fact he was a Pentecostal preacher, a councilman in the Louisiana town of Crowley, a state legislator, a congressman, an associate justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, chief librarian at the Oakdale Federal Correctional Institute (where he was also an inmate (!) and even a reality-TV star. Today he died at the age of 93.

Edwin Edwards With Johnny Cash and Charlie Pride

Edwards embodied Louisiana’s populist era in the late 20th century — championing the poor and ushering Black people and women into state government but also facing repeated accusations of corruption before finally being sent to prison for taking bribes.

He died this morning just before 7 a.m. at his home in Gonzales.

A Democrat, Edwards dominated the state’s politics for 25 years and even enjoyed a brief and spectacular turn in the national spotlight during the 1991 governor’s race when he faced off against former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.

With his bayou charm, razor-sharp mind and quick wit, Edwards personified the state’s ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ motto, proudly proclaimed himself as the first Cajun governor in the 20th century.

His political biography does read in such a way that, doubtless, a steamy and epic-sized book will need to be written about the man. After all, he served three full terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, four terms as governor, and, starting in 2000, eight years in federal prison for racketeering, extortion, and related crimes. He staged an unsuccessful political comeback in 2014, running once again for a House seat.

Louisiana has often been the staging ground for colorful personalities. Edwards filled that bill many times.

Presidents Who Make For Grand Stories

Simply one of the best columns to be found in today’s newspapers. History placed in this context always works as a column maker. Here is a snippet.

Bret Stephens: Gail, your last column reminded me that we share a peculiar obsession with obscure presidents: Franklin Pierce, Benjamin Harrison, his grandfather William Henry. I was a little disappointed that you had nothing to say about Chester Arthur. Was he too obscure to make the obscure list?

Gail Collins: Bret, this is why I love conversing with you. Breakfast followed by Chester Arthur.

Bret: Our readers can barely contain their excitement.

Gail: So here’s Chester’s story. There’s a Republican National Convention in 1880. Very bitter, 36 ballots. Roscoe Conkling, the New York party boss, wants to bring back Ulysses Grant for a third term but finally James Garfield gets the nod. To make peace, the Garfield folks offered the vice presidency to Levi Morton, an accomplished businessman.

Bret: Conkling sounds like a name that belongs in a dirty limerick.

Gail: But — stay with me, I’m almost done — Boss Conkling is still sulking over Grant and tells Morton to turn it down. Then the Garfield people — still looking for a New Yorker — turn to Arthur, who almost faints with joy.

The Garfield-Arthur ticket is elected, Garfield is assassinated and Arthur, who everybody thought of as a party hack, turned out to be a better president than expected.

Now tell me, whence comes the Chester Arthur interest? Was he a long-ago term paper topic?

Bret: My father turned me on to the joys of the historical footnote, literal and figurative. The biggest thing Arthur did as president was sign the Pendleton Act, which was the first step in professionalizing the Civil Service and eliminating the spoils system. Approximately 138 years later, Donald Trump tried partially to reverse the Pendleton Act through an executive order, which is only the 138th worst thing he did as president. But fortunately Joe Biden reversed Trump’s reversal, so the Arthur legacy lives on.