It is a sad commentary on the state of our democracy—and the state of our political leadership—that Republican leaders could not find the time or courage to attend Wednesday’s ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
I am painfully aware of today’s bitter partisan and ideological divide in the United States. I understand that an overwhelming majority of black Americans now vote for Democrats. I understand that Republicans want to roll back social programs and affirmative action efforts that are of keen importance to the black Americans who would inevitably dominate the ceremony. I understand that there is a blood feud between the Republicans and the labor unions that helped to organize the event.
I can also imagine that organizers of the march may not have been particularly enthusiastic in extending invitations to present and former Republican presidents, governors and Congressional leaders.
But if Republican leaders had overcome their discomfort and chosen to accept those invitations, I am pretty confident the organizers of the march would have had no choice but to welcome and accommodate them. By so doing, they would have done a service not only to the country, but to the Republican cause as well. Instead, they made themselves look even smaller and pettier by organizing a separate but unequal ceremony at the Capitol Hill Club.
In the wake of this embarrassment, Republican leaders might recall the wisdom of the one member of their party who did manage to make an appearance, albeit a silent one—Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s leadership was marked by a generosity of spirit and a fierce determination to unify a deeply-divided country—qualities perhaps best captured in the magnificent words of his second inaugural address that are etched into the marble walls of the Memorial that provided the backdrop for Wednesday’s ceremony.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds...”