The Lincoln-Douglas debates 2.0

    This painting depicts the debate between Republican Abraham Lincoln

    This painting depicts the debate between Republican Abraham Lincoln

    The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 were splendid affairs. The gangly Republican and the dimunutive Senate incumbent waxed eloquent on the great issues of the day — slavery and states’ rights. Each would speak for over an hour without interruption. Stephen A. Douglas set the tone for civility in the first debate when he said of Lincoln, “I mean nothing personally disrespectful or unkind to that gentleman.”

    What a bore. Clearly these debates need to be radically retooled for our contemporary electorate …

    “Senator Douglas, I say to you that this nation cannot endure half slave and half free.”

    “Mr. Lincoln, your lily-livered disrespect for states’ rights is clearly a disorder of the brain, much in evidence from the excretions I see pouring forth from your fevered brow.”

    “Senator, I would press forward on the issue of slavery, and the right of negroes to earn an honest free living, were I not distracted by the spreading stain I see upon your breeches.”

    “Ride a fast horse to Hades, you ignorant bumpkin.”

    “Douglas, you are so doggone short in stature, a family could use the top of your head for a table and dine happily on plates of venison.”

    “Lincoln, you are not fit to wear my frockcoat.”

    “That coat could not even fit a nipper playing hooky from the schoolyard.”

    “I am here today to discuss the right of states to freely choose slavery or not. And yet you hurl only slurs upon me. May you soon suffer from gangrene of the foot until the end of Creation.”

    “You stunted pipsqueak, I could lay you flat and split you like a log.”

    Again you talk of log-splitting. On every stage it is the same yarn in repetition. It is a stench upon the summer air and you make me feel poorly.”

    “You could not brandish my axe if it were roped to your hands. I suspect you would prefer to dance a quadrille with a lady.”

    “O yes, you are a manly fellow. A manly fellow. If it did not require that I mount a tall ladder, I would whip your repugnant countenance with a cat o’nine tails.”

    “That would be quite difficult for you, wearing a bonnet and hoop skirt.”

    “My patience is exhausted! You are a baboon of low morals!”

    “And you are a midget cur of low-vigor! I shall now perforce to squeeze your oozing carbuncles – “

    Moderator: “Ladies and gentlemen in attendance! There is much more to come after this message from our sponsor, Quack Snake Oil! We shall endeavor to be right back! Join the jubilee! Huzzah!”

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    But seriously, folks. Over the weekend, it occurred to me why Chris Christie sold his soul on Friday. He misread his master’s cap. He thought it said, “Make America Eat again.”

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    But really seriously, folks:

    With Donald Trump on the authoritarian warpath, threatening our free press, vowing to conduct a presidential vendetta against Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post (“they are going to have such problems”), it was deeply satisfying last night when the Best Picture Oscar was awarded to that ode to a free press, “Spotlight.”

    Perhaps America’s Clear and Present Danger should be strapped to a seat and forced to watch that film. Perhaps he’d learn something. Although he’d probably spend his time in the dark re-tweeting Mussolini.

    In other news this weekend, Hillary Clinton buried Bernie Sanders by a 3-1 margin in South Carolina. You cannot win the Democratic primaries with paltry support from the racially diverse electorate. The white liberal enclaves of Iowa and New Hampshire are fast receding in the rear view mirror; Super Tuesday will probably boost Hillary’s advantage. Bern-feelers may soon be compelled – far sooner than they would like – to compromise in the national interest, to redirect  their attention to the dire authoritarian threat facing this country.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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