Here is the annual Lincoln Oration given to the Middlesex Club. Each year a speaker ponders what advice Abraham Lincoln would give us in this present day. This year Jim McKenna gave the speech.
Thank you. Esteemed guests and members of the Middlesex Club, it is my profound honor to speak with you this evening.
It is a great honor, and somewhat daunting, to speak of the President who both ended slavery and saved our country, which country has since repeatedly saved the free world. Let us consider how President Lincoln’s wisdom, as reflected in his words, can provide guidance today.
And let me begin with what may be one of President Lincoln’s most insightful and underrated observations:
How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
There are those who wisely frame the essential political contest of today as one between ego and truth. Applied to our time, President Lincoln’s words affirm what some have forgotten, that ego is not more important than truth. The current focus on ego is evidenced by such things as the incumbent President’s apparent effort to set the indoor record for the most times the word “I” can be said in four years – in contrast, let us focus on truth.
Which brings me to what may be the second most underrated quotation from President Lincoln – one which demonstrates his perspective both on truth and democracy:
I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.
As we look forward – and look toward doing what, in truth, is right for our nation, our Commonwealth and our party, let us remember President Lincoln’s eloquent and simple advice:
Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.
We must stand our ground. While compromise many times is warranted, we must both identify the “right place” and have the integrity to not compromise what should never be compromised.
While we cannot determine every result, we can – and must – determine what ethically we choose. As President Lincoln said: I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.
As was made clear in this Commonwealth on November Second, we cannot win every race. However, as observed by President Lincoln:
Even “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”
Certainly it would have been better here in Massachusetts for us to have won congressional seats and to have prevailed in the statewide campaigns of Charlie Baker, Richard Tisei, Mary Connaughton, Karyn Polito, Bill Campbell and even that gentleman the New York Times referred to as “bald” (I did demand a recount), but, given our extraordinary legislative success, in the long run, November 2, 2010, may be seen as having been a critical step from where we were toward that day when we may have people living in this Commonwealth known as “Governor Shauna O’Connell,” “Congressman Ryan Fattman,” and “United States Senator Daniel Winslow.”
President Lincoln’s words also provide more general guidance in these times:
My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.
In has been 11 days since that election and, while we are far from content, let us no longer focus on what did not happen then. Instead, let us consider how, just two years from now, Sean Bielat can retire the ever-delightful Barney Frank; how Scott Brown, the man who showed us the way, will be re-elected as our United States Senator, and how we can make President Obama this century’s first one-term president.
As we work to make that happen, let us remember more of the words of President Lincoln – Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.
It is time to hustle. It is time to re-double our efforts. Let us not simply offer a choice, let us win.
In that regard, let us turn again to more of the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, who said:
Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.
Let us each commit to that success. And let us all commit to that success. The truth is that our Commonwealth needs us to resolve, unequivocally, to succeed.
And let us not delay. There is much to do, and we now have less time than we did just yesterday.
With perseverance, resolution and dedication to truth – and hustle – we can achieve that success. Let us do so as directed by President Lincoln – with malice toward none, with charity for all, [and] with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.
Finally, as President Lincoln said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” Let us make good use of each such day. Thank you.