Tag Archives: Lincoln

Visiting Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Lesson in Incrementalism

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Mount Vernon — otherwise known as George Washington’s home. It was quite lovely. The grounds are beautiful — so many wide open spaces, lots of greenery, and access to a waterway. Just what you’d want in an estate, I suppose. It was a bit goosebump-inducing to be able to walk through (and be near) the room where Washington and some of the other Founding Fathers plotted.

After walking through the museums on the estate, I was a bit surprised. I didn’t grow up with American history (having spent my youth in Canada), so I didn’t know much of the story of how the United States came to be of the United States. As a result, I was surprised to read about just how tenuous the beginning actually was. Of course, I’m aware that some of it may have been a bit dramatized, but Washington did a remarkable thing (depending on your perspective).

The surprising part, though, comes when I reflect on the discussions of the “greatest” President in the history of the United States. Whenever I read articles about this superfluous ranking, invariable, Lincoln tops the list. Part of this could be because some of the articles I’d been reading about the greatest US Presidents were written right around the time that the Lincoln movie was coming out. I’m also not trying to minimize what Lincoln did for the US — it is certainly important. Although, without Washington, would there even have been an Abraham Lincoln (in the way that we know of him)?

One other thing that was interesting to read about when walking through the museum was the idea that Washington also believed that the slaves should be free. Some attribute this belief to the fact that he freed his slaves when he died. Part of the reason (it’s theorized) that he didn’t free all the slaves was because of the shaky grounds that the US was still on when he was alive. Had he tried to make such a bold movie, the US might not have survived. In all fairness, some could make the argument that the US is still struggling with Lincoln’s decision to do just that (and that was a generation after Washington apparently considered the act).

In seeing that Washington was considering freeing the slaves, it made me think about incrementalism. When I used to watch politicians debate seemingly “small” measures to big problems, I would always grow frustrated. I would think to myself, why can’t they just make the big solution? I’m reminded of the phrase, “all in good time.” Sometimes, it’s not feasible to make big changes all at once. Even the small changes take time adjusting to (in politics). Making a big change could be untenable to some groups of people.

I look at the Affordable Care Act that President Obama pushed so hard for a couple of years ago. Many Democrats and liberals were upset that there wasn’t a push for a single-payer system. One would assume that President Obama opted not to push for that because he didn’t think that it could have passed. Healthcare, in and of itself, was hard enough to pass, so trying to pass something like a single-payer system would have been that much harder.

Circling back to Washington… I wonder what he would/could have accomplished for the country had he stayed on for a third term as President. I know that he died two years after stepping aside, but if he had continued as President, would we have gotten the 22nd Amendment sooner? Would Presidents like Jefferson or Madison stayed on for more than two terms?

Look Closely and You’ll See that America Values Philosophy and Idealism

About a month ago, I talked about the best kept secret to traveling – tours. Since that post, I’ve been back into DC a few times to visit the monuments and the other sites that there are to see. There was something that struck me as particularly poignant — the US values philosophy/ideals without even knowing it.

You wouldn’t know it to watch TV, go the movies, or listen to the radio, but deeply embedded within the US is a value of philosophy and ideals. What makes me say this? Well, in visiting the monuments, you can’t help but think this. All of these important people in American history and what’s the unifying theme (besides America) between them? They had an ideal or a philosophy and they remained steadfast in pursuing that philosophy. FDR, MLK, Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, George Mason…

Speaking of George Mason: even though I just finished an MBA from George Mason University, there were some things I didn’t know about the man that I found particularly interesting. For instance, did you know that he was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson? How about that he was the smartest man that George Washington knew? Or, how about that he wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights? And that Thomas Jefferson borrowed heavily from the Virginia Declaration of Rights in drafting the Declaration of Independence?

I wonder if there will be a time (again?) when these American values will be more apparent. That is, when they will be more overt.

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After one of these trips into DC to see the monuments, I found myself sitting on a bench outside one of the stores in the Mosaic District. I was looking up at all the store fronts and thinking to myself how distracting consumerism can be. I had just spent the day steeped in American idealism — learning and reading about some of the important figures in American history and now I found myself dropped into consumerism. It [consumerism] seemed so small after FDR, MLK, and Jefferson. It seemed almost insignificant. The most appropriate word I can think of for my thoughts that day: distracting.

It really seemed like everything was distracting. That is, everything but the philosophy/idealism I had spent time with that day. The stores and consumerism — it was distracting away from the philosophy and idealism. To be fair, maybe it’s not reasonable to always be thinking about idealism and philosophy. Maybe it’s fair to sometimes indulge. I should also clarify that I’m not judging consumerism, no.

I was just noticing that after spending a day with idealism, consumerism seemed… distracting.

Musings from the movie Lincoln

My intention was fulfilled: I did get to go and see Lincoln yesterday — and it didn’t disappoint. I know it’s Thanksgiving in the US and many of you are with your families, but I wanted to share a few thoughts on the movie:

1. First ladies (or wives of world leaders) seem to experience decisions just as much as the President or the world leaders do.

(minor spoiler alert)

2. When Senator Stevens was faced with the decision to — essentially — speak out against everything he’d been fighting for over the last 30 years, I wondered — would I be able to do that? Would you be able to do that? Of course, we can bring in Bentham‘s utilitarianism to help us explain doing what’s best for the “greater good,” but I still think it would be a difficult decision. Especially today, in the information age, when everything you say or do is kept — seemingly — forever.

3. Lincoln, in pursuing the abolition of slavery, had to know that he might lose his life. The day he died was not the first assassination attempt. So, in pursuing what he was pursuing, he had to know that he might die. The lesson here: would I be willing to give my life for a cause or a belief? Will there be a time when I’m faced with such an instance where I would give my life for what I believed in? Will you? Would you have given your life in the way Lincoln did? After I ask those questions, the thought occurs to me: Lincoln may not have seen it that way. he may not have seen it as, “I could die for this cause, so I should weigh the pros/cons.” My sense is that it might not even have been a question for him. He just knew that abolishing slavery was what he had to do — no matter the cost.

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Have a great Thanksgiving all!

The Lincoln Memorial and Civil Rights

This past weekend, I had the quintessential DC experience. Even though I’ve lived in Metro DC for over a year now, I hadn’t been to many of the monuments/memorials. On Saturday, I went to just about all of them. As a side note, I never realized just how big they were. There was one monument in particular that made me think — the Lincoln Memorial.

On my way to the bathroom (at the Lincoln Memorial), I noticed a tiny museum of sorts that had a number of Lincoln’s quotes on the wall. There was also a history channel (I think?) documentary-like movie playing in one corner of the museum. In the place where the video was playing, there were more things on the wall. One of the things on the wall that caught my eye was of someone holding a sign opposing civil rights. To me, it seemed an odd thing to find in a museum about the Lincoln Memorial. It also reminded that there was opposition to civil rights.

After I left the museum and continued my exploration of the other Memorials/Monuments, it made me think: what’s “today’s” version of what happened then? Is it marriage equality? Is it something else? More than that, what will be the next generation’s version of that? Or the generation after that? It’s a question I’ve wrestled with before: what are we doing today that will be thought of as ludicrous by the generations that follow.

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I’m really glad I had the chance to check out the Lincoln Memorial this weekend because I’m planning on watching Lincoln tomorrow afternoon. My plan on watching it in the afternoon is that I’ll be more “alert” for what I’ve read is one of the best movies of the year. I’m certainly excited for it because I’ve wanted to read Team of Rivals for some time. In fact, when I borrowed a bunch of books a few months ago, I had Team of Rivals on my list!