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Columbia, MD_Tuesday, September 09, 2008 __Politicians from Left to Right, seeking more collaborative and compassionate discourse in the public arena, are recalling Lincoln’s appeal to the “better angels of our nature,” Lincoln’s impassioned attempt to draw unionists and secessionists together in his First Inaugural Address to a bitterly divided nation.

Introducing Senator Barack Obama (D. IL) at the Democratic National Convention, Senator Richard Durbin (D. IL) said, “Like another son of Illinois, he has spoken to a divided people about the ‘better angels of our nature.’ To a country weary of the politics of division and deadlock, he has brought a message of unity and change.” In his acceptance speech, Obama affirmed, “What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose—our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.”

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I. CT) said during his endorsement of Senator John McCain’s (R. AZ) bid for the presidency at the Republican National Convention, “I’m here to support John McCain because country matters more than party.” Lieberman’s passion to draw people together for a higher purpose was exemplified by his address at the conference, “Looking Beyond Kyoto,” where he said, “It’s a challenge that should excite the mind of everyone in this room and the people of all the nations you represent because it can engage the better angels of our nature with this chance to build a better, safer world” (Yale University, 2005).

The phrase “better angels of our nature” was reintroduced into the public consciousness with the 9/11 Memorial Poem and moving DVD by Carolyn K. Long. The poem, begun two days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, was written not only to commemorate and comfort the heroes and victims of September 11, but to help a devastated nation view terrorism through a longer lens—one that could encompass justice and compassion for the innocent victims while avoiding an overreaction by the U.S. government to the attacks—an overreaction Long feared would inexorably lead to “unbridled ruin,” and unnecessary loss of lives and liberties. One particularly poignant stanza from the epic poem invokes this prayer:

Help the angels of our better natures rise to freedom’s song

And lead the charge of justice on her path,
So our own avenging angels do not strike in blind revenge

And wreak unbridled ruin with their wrath.              © Carolyn K. Long, 2001

Long’s message is a reminder of Lincoln’s belief that true victory is achieved not through vengeance, but by upholding our noblest ideals, those inspired by the “better angels of our nature.”

“Angels Over America” exalts the American spirit, and reaffirms the most basic and cherished American values: That a free, independent, democratic nation can defend its liberties, its people, and its principles while upholding its ideals of justice, compassion and tolerance for people throughout the world.

Long’s poetic vision was prescient. In the seven years since 9/11, the War on Terror has left more than 4000 U.S. sons and daughters dead, tens of thousands more with debilitating injuries, hundreds of thousands of casualties of “collateral damage” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our cherished liberties trampled under the rubric of necessity.

Now that politicians have invited Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature” back on the national stage, perhaps they will guide our national intercourse, and influence our decisions on the international stage.

As politicians recall Lincoln’s words, the stirring message of “Angels Over America” holds even greater relevance, imbuing Lincoln’s words with a depth and understanding that encompasses all that has ensued in the interim, and offering a vision and hope for the future.

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* John DiJoseph, Ph.D., political science, is an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Loyola College in Maryland, and author of the book, Jacques Maritain and the Moral Foundation of Democracy, Rowman & Littlefield Pub., Inc., 1996.

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