Lessons from Lincoln on persuading fellow Americans

In Doris Kerns Goodwin’s masterful book about Abraham Lincoln, entitled Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,  she describe’s President Lincoln’s approach to persuading his fellow countryman.  The following is a short excerpt where Mrs. Goodwin discusses how President Lincoln approached the most sensitive issue of that age: Slavery.

Unlike the majority of antislavery orators, who denounced the South and castigated slaveowners as corrupt and un-Christian, Lincoln pointedly denied fundamental differences between Northerners and Southerners. He argued that “they are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up… . When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself.” And, finally, “when they remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowledge them … and I would give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives.”

Rather than upbraid slaveowners, Lincoln sought to comprehend their position through empathy. More than a decade earlier, he had employed a similar approach when he advised temperance advocates to refrain from denouncing drinkers in “thundering tones of anathema and denunciation,” for denunciation would inevitably be met with denunciation, “crimination with crimination, and anathema with anathema.” In a passage directed at abolitionists as well as temperance reformers, he had observed that it was the nature of man, when told that he should be “shunned and despised,” and condemned as the author “of all the vice and misery and crime in the land,” to “retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart.”

In order to “win a man to your cause,” Lincoln explained, you must first reach his heart, “the great high road to his reason.” This, he concluded, was the only road to victory—to that glorious day “when there shall be neither a slave nor a drunkard on the earth.”
Building on his rhetorical advice, Lincoln tried to place himself in the shoes of the slaveowner to reason his way through the sectional impasse, by asking Southerners to let their own hearts and history reveal that they, too, recognized the basic humanity of the black man. Never appealing like Seward to a “higher law,” or resorting to Chase’s “natural right” derived from “the code of heaven,” Lincoln staked his argument in reality.  Goodwin, Doris Kerns (2005). Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster (pages 166-67).
Effective politicians do more than bombard their opponents with accusations, constantly characterizing their views as evil or their motivations unjust.  Successful leaders attempt to connect with others on a human level through empathy.  This is true regardless of how repugnant their policy positions may be–if Lincoln could do this with slavery, an argument regarding taxes or spending should be perfectly manageable.  Conservatives must do more than be right all the time, they must connect to those whom they wish to lead. In light of President Lincoln’s example, perhaps that is why Cal Thomas’s description of Marco Rubio is so appealing:
Rubio was not judgmental, but merely appealed to a higher standard. He is not the angry moralist putting others down. He is a political evangelist showing there is a better way.

(November 16, 2012 – Source: Steve Pope/Getty Images North America)

Marco Rubio as the next Reagan? (There may be something to that, as Democrats are already on the attack)


In the Albany Herald, Cal Thomas analyzes the speech Senator Marco Rubio gave in Iowa this past week.  Much of what was said by the young senator was very encouraging.  He spoke of how conservatism finds it home in the GOP, but the party is not necessarily synonymous with the movement:

Rubio also seemed to suggest that conservatism is larger than the Republican brand, which has become tainted in some minds. He said, “This is not about the Republican Party. This is about limited government conservatism.” While he said the Republican Party “is the home of that movement,” he seemed to suggest that it is not necessarily its permanent residence.

As discussed in other posts on this blog, Senator Rubio displayed his ever-improving skill at re-characterization of the day’s principal issues.  Recognizing the tremendous downward pressure this ailing economy has on the middle class, Senator Rubio said:

“The way to turn our economy around is not by making rich people poorer. It’s by making poor people richer.”

Cal Thomas points out that “[i]n this, he resembled Reagan’s favorite president, Calvin Coolidge, who said, “Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.”

And what about those pesky social issues that many liberals claim have crippled the conservative movement in the face of an every decaying moral society?  Shall those positions be discarded?  How about this for an analysis:

Some Republicans are again suggesting the party would perform better if it divorced itself from social conservatives and their issues. Rubio addressed that directly and rejected it: “The breakdown of the American family has a direct impact on our economic well-being. The social and moral well-being of (our) people is directly linked to their economic well-being. You can’t separate the two.”

While praising “heroic” single mothers, Rubio said, “They would be the first to tell you how difficult it is.” He added, “A two-parent home gives kids advantages,” and he said “the great gift my parents gave me” was staying together and loving him and his siblings.

Rubio was not judgmental, but merely appealed to a higher standard. He is not the angry moralist putting others down. He is a political evangelist showing there is a better way. The difference is subtle, but it is in contrast to Mitt Romney’s remark about a nation in which 47 percent are “takers.”

Time and time again, Senator Rubio is able to re-frame the argument.  He’s at his best when turning conservative stereotypes on their head by explaining principles with clarity (and with a smile).  The left knows this all too well, hence they’re working overtime now to make Senator Rubio appear “crazy:”


The looming Obama enthusiasm gap

An interesting article surfaced in the Washington Post this week.  Jonathan Capehart points out that the Democrats may face much stiffer challenger in 2014 and 2016 when Barack Obama is not on the ballot to energize key voting blocs.

In particular, he discusses how when certain minority populations are asked about their enthusiasm in supporting Democrats if the president isn’t on the ballot, the support tumbles.

A slide from the NAACP’s battleground poll shows how real a concern about minority turnout post-Obama is. The president got 93 percent of the African American vote. But when black Democrats in Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Virginia were asked whether they would be enthusiastic about Democrats without Obama on the ballot, support nose-dives.

How precipitous is this change? Very:

Democrats are looking at a 14-point drop in enthusiasm among African Americans in their support for the party’s 2016 nominee without Obama. The drop among those described as “very enthusiastic” is 32 points, from 79 percent to 47 percent.

Certainly, Democrats will move to consolidate their gains just as eagerly as Republicans will move to roll them back. Looking ahead to 2016, when many on the left assume that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, the Republicans might be very well positioned should they (wisely) put forward an effective, young conservative like Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, or Paul Ryan for president.

GQ Interviews Senator Marco Rubio (as usually, Senator Rubio crushes it)

GQ interviews Marco Rubio and gets some good material.  If you haven’t seen the piece yet, please navigate to this link and check it out for yourself.  What you’ll find is more evidence that Senator Rubio is a naturally effective communicator of the conservative solutions to today’s problems (yes, including immigration).  Here’s my favorite interchange:

GQ: We’ve seen people tend toward inspiring transformational figures. You know you had Barack Obama in 2004…

Marco : I don’t know how inspiring I am to people on the left [laughs], but I’m not a big believer in transformative people in politics. There are people that have a historic opportunity to speak the truth and take on issues of the historic moment.

GQ: Do you want to be one of those people?

Marco Rubio: That’s not something you can choose to be. That’s something that just happens and falls on your lap. Usually, it falls on your lap during periods of extreme trial and I don’t think any of us want to experience extreme trial for our country. We would much prefer to be not historic on those terms. I think I’ve been given a unique opportunity to serve during an important time in American history and I would like to make a contribution. I am troubled that sometimes in our political discourse we spend all of our time focused on the challenges of the next century rather than on the opportunities of the new century.

Senator Rubio is particularly adept and re-molding negative or “anti” views on topics into positive, forward-thinking strategies.  He’s at his best when given a chance to reformat the context of the question put to him.  What’s more, he’s able to do this without appearing annoyed or off-put by the line of questioning.  Need some evidence?  Watch him handle Jonathan Stewart:

More on Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio’s appeal as the GOP standard-bearer in 2016 cannot be understated.  Florida Today reports that though he’s Hispanic, his real appeal is found in his policies, rather than his heritage.

“The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them,” he said in a statement issued Wednesday, less than two hours after Romney’s concession speech.

The reason Senator Rubio is such a compelling conservative leader has far more to do with his ability to communicate the conservative message and connect with people on a personal level.  It has far less to do with his racial or ancestral makeup.  In his interviews and TV appearances, Senator Rubio is relaxed, comfortable, and even happy when discussing the conservative platform.  (If you don’t believe me, go back and watch some of his Daily Show appearances with Jonathan Stewart.)  He never seems ruffled by sharp questions or annoyed by disagreement

He’s also someone people can relate to.  Colin Cowherd (ESPN talk show host) diagnosed this problem aptly in his broadcast shortly after the election.  He explained that in his opinion, people want to relate to the person they’re voting for.  It’s the same reason that Jeter and A-Rod don’t have the same appeal: while both are Hall of Fame caliber players, Jeter is imminently more popular.  This is primarily due to the fact that he seems like “one of us.”  Unfortunately, Governor Romney was never seen as someone people could relate to.  As much as we would like an election to be about who is the best qualified to lead the country, we cannot ignore the reality that people want a leader who they believe is not foreign to them.  In 2012, Obama was able to navigate that distinction far better than Romney.

Marco Rubio demonstrates how to advocate for conservatism

In August, Marco Rubio visits the The Daily Show and shows how someone can effectively explain and defend conservatism: