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Why Lincoln Matters: Today More Than Ever Hardcover – June 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Politicians have been casting themselves as inheritors of the banner of Abraham Lincoln since his assassination nearly a century and a half ago, as former New York governor Mario Cuomo chronicles in the first of this slim but eloquent political treatise. From William Jennings Bryant to William Jefferson Clinton, from FDR through W, figures on the left and right have declared themselves heirs to the martyred "secular saint" of American statesmanship. (Ronald Reagan went so far as to misattribute eight conservative maxims from the great man at the 1992 Republican convention; the adages turned out to be the creation of a early-20th-century clergyman who was putting his own spin on the Lincoln legacy.) Cuomo notes that Lincoln is too complex a figure to belong exclusively to either the left or the right, but that doesn't stop him from finding an enduring link from Lincoln’s vision to Cuomo's brand of unabashed liberalism. The notion may be debatable, but Cuomo, one of the great orators of his generation, is as fluent at the keyboard as he is at the lectern, making Why Lincoln Matters a rewarding read for those on both sides of the divide. Fired by 9-11 and the 2004 presidential election, Cuomo surveys a host of contemporary issues---from the battle against terrorism to religion, race, and the role of government---interpreting the words and notions of his political hero like a true believer deciphers the Bible. One can dispute his conclusions, but his rousing passion and sense of mission are at the very least thought provoking and articulately reasoned. --Steven Stolder

From Publishers Weekly

In this heartfelt moral tract about the state of the nation and the challenges confronting it, former New York governor and sometime presidential aspirant Cuomo argues that the nation needs "an overarching grand concept" and "a vision worthy of the world's greatest nation." Cuomo finds them in the words and endeavors of our 16th president. The Rail Splitter's life and moral strength are, he believes, especially relevant today, when, says the author, we've wandered from our truest paths and no longer follow the best angels of our nature. Cuomo would have us adopt public policies, both domestic and international, that are "more compassionate," "more generous" and "more inclusive." If this seems like a Democrat's agenda, it is-but a centrist Democrat who, while candidly acknowledging that he hopes people will consider what he says in preparation for the 2004 election, is not sharply critical of the Republicans. Cuomo even offers an imagined address that Lincoln, if alive, would deliver to Congress this year. The problem is that while Cuomo clearly admires Lincoln, it's not self-evident why Lincoln's wisdom, laid out here effectively if tendentiously, is any more apposite to today's issues than, say, Washington's leadership, Jefferson's ideals or FDR's efforts to create international order. One could just as well take as a life motto Lincoln's celebrated admonition that "we must disenthrall ourselves" and that each generation must follow its own way and not one laid down in the past. So one comes away from this book modestly educated about Lincoln, nicely uplifted by Cuomo's intentions, but confused about why, precisely, Lincoln should be our guide.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151009996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151009992
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,146,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Nordin on June 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Cuomo applies the moral and rational perspective of Lincoln to the present day issues. Needless to day he does not find Bush & Co in line with what he thinks Lincoln would have done. He contrasts Lincoln's consistent evoking of a higher moral purpose, and his intellectual integrity to what we have now. The book ends with a draft of what Lincoln might have said to Congress in 2004 if he'd been newly elected.

People who dislike this book call it a screed, full of Bush-bashing, etc. To which I say "the facts are biased." However, any fair reading of Lincoln's morality, his invoking of religion, and of course, his eloquence all are in evident contrast to the current leader.

Cuomo's suggestion for Lincoln's 2004 State of the Union address contains this: "What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, our missiles, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined armed forces. These are not our most important safeguard against the terrorizing of our fair land: Our principal reliance must be on the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms."

In the moral wasteland we now find ourselves, it is good to be reminded that we, at least once in our history, had a leader that could summon us to consider our situation from the highest moral perspective.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Gov. Cuomo has done a tremendous job weaving together his own commentary on our nation's present predicament with Lincoln's wisdom. When I read Donald's biography of Lincoln, I found Lincoln's humility in the face of his challengers to be the most enduring lesson. In part, I think it grew out of his considerable depression and what was clearly a sense of being alone in the world. Ironically, it became his greatest asset. In a strange way, by contrast, George W is too well-adjusted for our nation's good. The thread that runs through his prosecution of this war, his cynical treatment of the environment, his tax policies, and many other policies is a complete absence of self-doubt. The beauty of this book is that Gov. Cuomo has captured both Lincoln's essence and Bush's in a nuanced contrast.
I found three areas particularly fascinating. First, the discussion of civil liberties and Lincoln's approach to the Supreme Court appointments. I had not thought about the relevance of Lincoln's actions in the Civil War to the current Court's consideration of "enemy combatant" status for U.S. citizens. Second, Lincoln's religion fascinates me in part b/c Jefferson's does as well. I wish it were better appreciated that two of our nation's most foundational thinkers and leaders had deep concerns about the role of organized religion in issues of state and worked hard to preserve the separation without denying the value of religious beliefs and practice. Third, and most important, the State of the State chapter was a terrific idea and beautifully executed. I only wish that it were being issued by the White House today rather than just being published by Harcourt Brace.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By W. T. Louderback on February 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Having read this book with the single-volume edition of Carl Sandburg's classic series on Lincoln, I believe Cuomo's book rings true. It's heatfelt and honest. Cuomo is simply telling it like it is from the liberal point of view, which is legal in New York and many other states. I would say that Lincoln was liberal, too. He was much more like TR, Wilson, FDR and Clinton than McKinley, Coolidge, Reagan and Dubya. More so, I think this is a no-brainer.

When we think about what "liberal" and "conservative" mean, we need to begin with the root meaninings of those two words --- generosity and frugality. The rest of it flows from there. Some would say it's New Testament v. Old Testament. I think it's more like idealism v. pragmatism. Liberalism comes out of the Enlightenment and that movement's devotion to the scientific method. You know, deductive and inductive reasoning. Conservatism on the other hand is ends-justified reasoning for the most part.

This book shows us that Lincoln, FDR, Cuomo, and others come from a thoughtful, honest, and optimistic tradition. Cuomo's prose is nearly a graceful as Lincoln's.

Some readers might also enjoy "May God Bless America: George W. Bush and Biblical Morality" by Joseph J. Martos.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By George L. Dziuk III on May 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mario Cuomo's essential approach to Lincoln is "How would Abraham Lincoln have responded to the challenges present in today's America?"

This, of course, leads to some very biased presentations of the facts in order to present Abraham Lincoln in as positive and liberal a light as possible. Missing is the fact that Lincoln was forced to write the Emancipation Proclimation in order to appease the strong Abolitionist wing of the Republican party and other such instances where Lincoln was not the brightest Presidential star. While I do think that within the pantheon of Presidents, Abe Lincoln definitely ranks up there with George Washington, and FDR as one of the greatest Presidents, I also think that a book that is trying to present a case for Lincoln should focus less on the present occupier of the White House and more on the former. Cuomo simply makes it too obvious that this entire book is one enormously jaded propoganda piece for the Democratic party. The true parts on Lincoln doesn't even begin until 50 pages into the work because the author is too busy talking about all that is wrong with the current Republican-lead government in Washington.

I consider myself a Democrat and see the importance of the role of the federal government, but this book should focus more on what Lincoln did right to change his own age and how that went on to impact American down to the present period and less on what he might have done had he been alive today.
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