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Music Cues: Political Birth Rights
Scott Simon
February 12, 2001

Scott Simon commentary about political birth rights

By the time Abraham Lincoln ran for president in 1860, he was a successful and accomplished lawyer who lived in one of the best houses in Springfield, Illinois. He could afford to order his pocket handkerchiefs from Tiffany's in New York, because they were woven out of softer Swiss cotton. Mr. Lincoln was acclaimed as "The Mighty Railsplitter" on campaign banners, and could still hold a heavy ax up with just his thumb and forefinger. But that was, even by his own account, strictly a party trick. By 1860, he paid young neighborhood boys to chop his family's firewood.

By 1860, Abraham Lincoln was still authentically a man of the midwestern prairies, but he wanted to blow his nose into the softest possible European cotton.

When Mr. Lincoln ran for president, he did not proclaim himself as the candidate of the provinces and prairies running against Washington bigwigs and insiders. It would have been awkward. His opponent, Stephen Douglas, lived just a few miles away in the same Illinois county. Besides, Mr. Lincoln had tried mightily to become a part of the mess in Washington, but he had lost the race for a senate seat to Mr. Douglas just two years before.

And yet it was Stephen Douglas, sitting inside the seat of power, who wanted to prevent the federal government from prohibiting states to keep or extend slavery. Lincoln argued for, fought for, and eventually laid down his life for, a strong federal government that embodied one high standard of American liberty.

Every four years, prominent American politicians who are spending a fortune to try to live in the White House often try to sound as if they would really be happiest in a log cabin.

In recent years, many popular public figures have chosen NOT to run for president. Colin Powell, Mario Cuomo, and others have decided that there are other ways in which their lives can be applied to bring change to the world. Politics is not the only open road.

But among the major candidates now, you have the sons of a president, a senator, an admiral and a bank president, a governor, a vice president, a senator and a former senator, all claiming, in various ways, to be running against America's ruling structure. And if the wealthy developer Donald Trump becomes a candidate, the comedy would be just about complete.

All these powerful, prominent people who profess to be running against power and influence.