Today’s health care vote promises to be a historic one.
Democratic leaders are predicting confidently that they will have at least 216, and possibly as many as 222, votes necessary for passage in the House.
The debate has been a long, fractious and divisive one, with Republicans being resolutely and unanimously opposed and an earlier version going down in defeat after dozens of Democrats voted against.
Obama opened his speech by talking about the White House library. While perusing one of the many books he has there, he came across a quote from Abraham Lincoln, a president who, like Obama, was a lanky lawyer from Illinois who took office amidst a time of crisis.
Lincoln wrote, Obama said, “”I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.”
Obama used Lincoln phrase as a recurring theme throughout his speech, which he delivered without a Teleprompter or notes.
“We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true.”
Lincoln’s rhetorical powers arguably reached their heights at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where, in November 1863, he began a brief, but epoch changing address, “Four score and seven years ago.”
The prolific Garry Wills has written on all manner of topics during a career that began in the mid to late 60s.
In Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, Wills, who was trained in classical rhetoric, breaks down the speech’s substance and rhetorical structure.
If the speech was masterful, Wills’ book is only slightly less so. He goes phrase by phrase through Lincoln’s 287 words, which followed a far lengthier speech by Massachusetts politician Edward Everett (Apparently I am not the original long-winded man from Massachusetts!). In the end, Wills argues, Lincoln acknowledges the suffering the nation has endured, the slavery that had been recently abolished, and reaffirms the democratic principles under which the nation was formed and for which the struggle was being waged.
Obama reveres Lincoln, according to numerous reports, so it was not surprising to me that he cited a lesser-known phrase in rallying his troops.
“We are not bound to win,” Obama concluded. “But we are bound to be true.”
“We are not bound to succeed. But we are bound to let whatever light we have, shine.”
The vote is scheduled to take place this afternoon. Whether you read it before, during or after it, Wills’ book is more than worth the time.