Obama’s health care speech to Democrats, Garry Wills on the Gettysburg Address.

President Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln yesterday; Garry Wills masterfully discusses the Gettysburg Address in this book.

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.

Dear friend Dan Middleton pointed me to the  passionate and reasoned 30-minute appeal President Obama made to Democrats yesterday.

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.

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4 responses to “Obama’s health care speech to Democrats, Garry Wills on the Gettysburg Address.

  1. Yes, ” I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true,” is a superb Lincoln quote, and I think especially timely for President Obama. Congress is so bankrupt, we really ought to simply close it done permanently – no joke! The health care debate is a perfect case in my mind. I am afraid our President put the truth on hold to grab a little victory on the health care front. The truth? Equal access to decent, basic health care is a moral right for all our citizens. Unfortunately, the immorality of our current system got lost in the debate about the “how to” as opposed to focussing on the big “Why.” I for one would have preferred a fierce fight for a single payer system in order to get the “for profit” motive out of our basic health care plans. Sure, we may have lost the battle, but at least the “true” seeds would have been planted for another day. And what better person than President Obama to take the moral high ground? After all, he spent many years drinking from the fountain of liberation theology with its preferential option for the poor and dispossessed. I am also reasonably confident when he has that late night puff, echoes of those sacred words and deeds speak to his heart. He needs to be a bold, courageous surgeon of the heart in my mind. I believe there is an extraordinary majority out there (Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc.), who are longing to hear from someone in public office who will speak to the heart, deep into our hearts.

    Love Garry Wills – first heard him introduce Dan Berrigan, a liberation theologian poet/activist if there ever was one, back in the early 80’s. I did find his Gettysburg book a difficult read.

    Here’s hoping our President has learned a lesson our two about winning, losing, and speaking the truth to power.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Hey, Jack,

      I know you talk at times about your political passions being a thing of the past, but your comments tell otherwise, my friend!

      Please keep it coming.

      Jeff

  2. perhaps a case of “better to burn out than rust out” syndrome?

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