I read once that during the darkest days of the Civil War, when it seemed to the president he was presiding over the destruction of the union he loved, Abraham Lincoln could sometimes be heard pacing back and forth upstairs in the White House and groaning aloud, “Oh, why did God ever put me in this place?”
When we consider the lives of great men, we sometimes find it difficult to comprehend how fearful, uncertain, even despairing they sometimes were on their roads to achievement. Because we already know the end of the story, their victory seems to us assured. I think it’s good to remember that it very much did not seem that way to them. What made men like Lincoln and George Washington so great, so worth commemorating, is not so much their ultimate triumph but their actions at those moments when triumph seemed furthest away.
When the American electorate made what I believe to be the serious error of electing Barack Obama president, there were those among my conservative friends who felt a political apocalypse was upon us. It was the end of days, the ascension of the anti-Christ, the death knell of liberty and so on. Obama is a spoiled and inexperienced narcissist with a theoretical view of governance completely at odds with reality and an ivory tower set of values out of keeping with those at the core of our hard won freedoms. He’s done a lot of harm to this country already and will do more before we get the chance to give him the electoral heave-ho – sooner I pray than later.
But rather than an apocalypse, I think this political moment – any serious setback really – is better regarded as a Valley Forge or a Second Bull Run: one of those tests of our courage, durability and will to defend what matters most, whether from genuinely evil enemies like the jihadi abroad or simply from the latest gang of thieves and idiots to take over our government here at home.
Happy President’s Day.