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 Lincolns 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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