Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Breathing Life Into Lincoln’s Words

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

It was a mild fall day on Nov. 19, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pa., a town of 2400 people, located 90 miles north of Washington, D. C. President Abraham Lincoln was there to deliver a speech that afternoon, to dedicate the new Soldiers National Cemetery.

The Union army had defeated those of the Confederacy four and one half months earlier at the Battle of Gettysburg. Seventy-five hundred brave souls lost their lives in that two day conflict.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was short, lasting just over two minutes. “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…,” he said. Concluding his remarks, Lincoln said “…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and- that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

On June 1, 1865, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner eulogized the slain Lincoln by observing, “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it.”

Have we lost site of Lincoln’s hallowed words spoken on that Gettysburg battlefield more than 145 years ago? Do we still believe that a government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth? That belief is being severely tested today, as Americans struggle to comprehend what has happened to open, honest and transparent government.

The evidence of the people being led astray by local, state and national legislators is widespread. In many cases they have partnered up with greedy bankers, corporate executives and lobbyists, forming a seemingly impenetrable alliance of corruption and deceit.

In a We Media/Zogby poll conducted last month, 63 percent of Americans believe small business and entrepreneurs will lead our nation to a better future. Fifty-two percent say it will come from science and technology. Government, with 31 percent is clearly not seen as the answer; nor large corporations and business leaders at just 21 percent.

What’s revealing about this poll is that our government with its unparalleled spending on bailing out big corporations and banks is bending over backward to accommodate those with the least amount of confidence.

President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to allow the Bush tax cuts on income, dividends and capital gains to lapse after 2010 for individuals who make more than $250,000 per year. Many small business owners fall into this category. So while those with whom we have the least confidence are being helped the most, those in which we have the most confidence are being penalized. Is anybody in government listening?

Most of us feel helpless. We’re watching a lifetime of savings going down the drain, our values are being compromised, our jobs shipped overseas and our cries of outrage are ignored. This is certainly not government of the people, by the people and for the people of which Lincoln spoke.

I was at the most recent monthly Chowan County Board of Commissioners meeting in Edenton, with a standing room only audience. The county is looking at a deficit of close to $1 million for this fiscal year, which ends in June. Chowan is still trying to recover from the loss of $20 million in reserves over the last five years, resulting from apparent mismanagement.

Chowan County elected three new commissioners last November. One of the new commissioners was elected chairman, and another vice-chairman. This new board is being extremely open with its meetings.

Chowan begins its meetings with an open comment period for citizens to speak their mind. Eddy Goodwin, the board’s new chairman is seeking even more citizen participation. He often will turn to the audience before a vote and ask if anyone has any comments; he’ll even ask for a show of hands to see who might agree or disagree with a particular topic.

This may not conform to strict parliamentary procedure, but the folks seem to like it. After losing all confidence in county government following the startling financial revelations of last year, this appears to be a refreshing change from the way business had been conducted in the past. In the old days the county manager ran the show and the board virtually rubberstamped his every whim. Citizen input didn’t seem to matter then. From the commissioners’ standpoint, it does now.

When I first met Goodwin last year he was considering running for county commissioner. The financial crisis in Chowan had yet to erupt. Yet I remember with great clarity what he told me as we sat across the table. Quoting Lincoln, Goodwin said he believed in government of the people, by the people and for the people. He said he sensed that was not occurring in Chowan County so he was throwing his hat in the ring.

Goodwin returned to Chowan after many years of government service at home and abroad. He could have retired anywhere but chose to come home. He talked straight during his campaign and told folks they might not like him for some of the tough decisions he might have to make if elected. But he also told voters he hoped they would see him as a straight shooter who would always strive to do what’s right. So far, he and the entire board of commissioners appear to be living up to that. And most of the folks in Chowan are beginning to feel not only reassured, but heard.

Listening; that’s something there’s precious little of these days in Washington, Raleigh and many county and municipal governments across the land. They too would be wise to remember Mr. Lincoln’s poignant words. At least one small county in North Carolina appears to be having, as Lincoln said, “a birth of new freedom.” It would be nice if our state and national leaders did the same.

Just as long as they don’t listen to the people who insist that a free ride is what they deserve. Those who focus not on what is good for all society but what is good for them personally are subversive of good democracy. I have long argued a serious problem for America is that we are a generous country. It becomes a serious problem whenever that generosity is exhibited through government. It is individual generosity that has led us repeatedly to offer a helping hand to those in need. However in every case, those with greedy ulterior motives have, over time, converted each governement program to offer a helping hand into a corrupt program that provides a free ride instead. Yet we never seem to learn that letting government be the helping hand is CERTAIN to be corrupted. The helping hand always becomes a free ride. Always.


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