So now the culture vultures and self-appointed historical purists have decided that, following President Obama's high praise for Hillary Clinton, the best, and perhaps only, way to question what the president called her "wicked" smartness is to charge that Hillary believes in the discredited Southern Lost Cause theory of post-Civil War Reconstruction. Say what?
The opportunity to pounce occurred near the end of yesterday's Iowa town hall, when Hillary confided that, Obama and her own husband notwithstanding, her candidate for greatest American president ever is Abraham Lincoln -- because he saved the Union and issued the Emancipation Proclamation. So far so good.
But then she added that had Lincoln lived, the special horrors of post-war Southern Reconstruction might have been mitigated. Never did she specify that she felt white southerners had been maltreated by northern carpetbaggers, as some commentators immediately and all-knowingly cackled. No, sorry, guys: she is no Wellesley version of Scarlett O'Hara, yearning for juleps, magnolias, and subjugation of African Americans. What sane observer could possibly so infer? All she was saying -- maybe a bit awkwardly, but, I think, sincerely and justifiably -- is that a leader of Lincoln's extraordinary abilities and patience might well have found the means of empowering formerly enslaved persons, granting them rights, and bringing the defeated white Southerners into alignment with these righteous new policies. Only Lincoln might have reconciled blacks and whites, North and South. Instead, as she rightly notes, Reconstruction ended prematurely and the few rights granted African Americans were swept away in wave after wave of brutality and subjugation. Of course Lincoln would have managed Reconstruction better than his successor, Andrew Johnson. How could he have done worse?
Had Lincoln lived, might we have emerged as a less racist, less violent society as we neared the 20th Century? Hillary is on entirely safe ground when she so speculates. And her between-the-lines revisionist critics are doing nothing more than grasping at historical straws to suggest she believes in the Pre-Eric Foner theory of Reconstruction.
A hundred and fifty one years after Lincoln's death, This country has a great deal of reconstruction of its own to accomplish, and reconciliation would not be a bad way to start--a search for the better, not the worst, "angels of our nature."
With far less fanfare, unfortunately, I heard Hillary a few months ago declare what Lincoln truly meant to her, and how she hopes to use his example to inspirit her own presidency: it was Lincoln's confident vision that every American should have an equal chance in the race of life. There is a historical reference that really counts! From a wicked smart candidate who may be our "last best hope" to navigate our own un-civil wars.