It seems almost providential that the first contest for the United States Senate between two black men, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Alan Keyes, is taking place in Illinois, the land of Lincoln.
Can it be more appropriate that this Senate race is in the home of the father of the Emancipation Proclamation, at whose monument Dr. Martin Luther King stood and shared his vision of a nation where men would be judged by character rather than race?
Lincoln was a visionary. His famous words of almost 150 years ago at Gettysburg raised issues that are as relevant today as then. They can and should provide the very framework to evaluate the competing visions of these two Illinois candidates for the U.S. Senate.
At Gettysburg, Lincoln defined the struggle of the Civil War as a test of whether a nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" can endure. He then said that the work remained "unfinished" and declared that it is the responsibility of the living to carry on the task "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom _ and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Certainly neither candidate would question that our nation's work today still remains unfinished. However, their visions about the nature of our free society, the work that needs to be done and the meaning of a nation "under God" couldn't be more different.
At the Democratic convention, Obama said, "The audacity of hope. In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen."
But isn't it the audacity of hope that fills casinos in Las Vegas, that sells hundreds of millions of dollars of state lottery tickets, and that leads us to belief that federal welfare programs will rid our nation of poverty and a permanent social underclass? Hope belongs to everyone, to every human endeavor, well-conceived and ill-conceived.
Alan Keyes would say that God's greatest gift to us is his law. This is what makes us unique. His law shows us the way and guides us how to use our hope properly.
And if it will not be his law, whose law will it be? Politicians and judges will decide. So Obama can say, as he did in Boston, "We coach little league in the Blue States, and yes, we've got some gay friends in the Red States." Obama's insinuation for us here is that it is up to us to make up the law regarding sexual behavior and, surely, marriage. Because for Obama, God's special gift is hope. We will fit the law to whatever our aspiration of the moment might be, confused or not.
As a black man, Obama should know better. There was a time in our nation's history when we made up the law, when we didn't think we needed God's law. Then we decided black men could be slaves and that black men were property. It took national recognition of God's law to change that.
We know when a man decides he can make up the rules there is no end to where he will go. So, predictably, Obama is not for school choice because he will decide what the school system should look like. Obama is not for personal retirement accounts to replace the Social Security tax because he doesn't believe that individuals can choose and take care of their own retirement future. He does, however, propose a retirement account option on top of Social Security. However, what worker earning $30,000 has extra money, after paying Social Security taxes, to put into such an account? And, of course, Obama raises the money to pay for these new accounts by raising taxes on businesses because he'll decide who should make what and how much.
Alan Keyes provides a stark contrast and genuine alternative for voters. In Keyes' view, a free society cannot exist with capricious law. A standard must exist and for the "nation under God" that Lincoln addressed at Gettysburg, that standard must be our religion and our tradition. This is the standard that has protected life, liberty, and property so well and provided the basis for the prosperity we have created. It is this standard that recognizes human dignity and uniqueness and allows parents to educate their children as they see fit and allows them to retain their earnings and to save.
Our history of deviations from this standard -- slavery, Jim Crow and the welfare state -- have caused nothing but problems for our nation and for blacks in particular.
The test and unfinished work that Lincoln talked about at Gettysburg remain with us today. Let's hope we have the wisdom to choose the real path to freedom, in Illinois and around the nation.