The Lincoln bicentennial

This Lincoln bicentennial could have evil repercussions.

The lesser danger is to us, the general public. For our part, we face an extended, inescapable fifth grade civics lesson delivered by pile drivers for the duration. The most primitive Lincoln sound bites will have sway in the mass media and the electronic murmur of happy talk will comprise our daily bread.

On the other hand, Lincoln scholars will be in even worse shape. Not only will they have to deliver a year’s worth of bite-sized up-with-people- color-me-glad history pap, they will face unprecedented scrutiny from their peers outside the like-minded world of Lincoln studies.

Every scholar, professor, and deep reader from whatever discipline beyond Lincoln-land, will be locked in the same media madhouse as you and me, delivered to the same electro-shock therapy from Lincoln-loving talking heads bent on making it simpler and easier for us to love Lincoln as deeply as they love Lincoln - every day, in every way. Outside scholars will not be amused to be so imposed upon, just as you and I will cease to be amused after the initial bicentennial media blitz.

The question is how fast and with what fury the respectable, informed intellectual backlash against Lincoln scholars will begin. Professors embroiled in controversy within their own fields are not going to look benignly on the we-love-consensus Lincoln students. They may view the field as undisciplined, phony, and clubby. (Not to put words in anyone's mouths, of course.)

Once scholarship-at-large decides Lincoln students are advocates, not scholars, the game may be up for Lincoln studies. The field may be relegated to the status of military history.

My advice to Lincoln scholars is therefore to begin seriously dealing with Lincoln’s many personal, professional, ethical, and managerial failings and with the serious, principled opposition to his actions and policies.

I'm willing to help restore discipline to the field. Let me therefore begin to propose feasible - not polemical - topics for a hypothetical bicentennial conference on Lincoln. I'll make it a series of short posts.