One gets some sense of the heavy political weather President Bush was flying in Monday night by the pre-speech observation of a cable news anchor. He condescendingly observed that it must have escaped the White House's attention that the war college where Mr. Bush was to speak was close to Gettysburg, Pa., where Abraham Lincoln delivered his magnificent Gettysburg Address, compared with which Mr. Bush's speech would doubtlessly be found wanting. Talk about a tough audience. What is worse, that comment was on Fox News Channel, which passes for friendly journalism in Mr. Bush's Washington today.
But it is worth remembering that Lincoln's rhetorical masterpiece in November of 1863 did not save him from savage calumnies and despair by the following summer of 1864. Lincoln scholar David Herbert Donald described the mood in Washington almost precisely 140 years before Mr. Bush's speech this Monday:
"War weariness was spreading, and demands for negotiations to end the killing were becoming strident. In the Middle West the Copperhead movement was strong, and there were rumors of an insurrection intended to bring about an independent Northwest Confederation. The Democrats were organizing for their national convention to be held in Chicago at the end of August, and they were likely to adopt a peace platform. The Republicans were badly divided, and Lincoln was whipsawed between those who thought him too lenient toward the South and those who thought him too severe. Worst of all, the Union armies appeared stalemated. Sherman at the head of the Western Armies was approaching Atlanta but was not, apparently, nearer victory over Joseph E. Johnson. In the East, the Army of the Potomac was bogged down in a siege of Petersburg."
By August of 1864, Lincoln wrote to a friend; "You think I don't know I am going to be beaten. But I do, and unless some great change takes place badly beaten, then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the president elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards."
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.