What Bush Learned from Lincoln

Roundup: Media's Take

Brendan Miniter, assistant editor of OpinionJournal.com, in the WSJ (Feb. 17, 2004):

America is now at a crossroads. In one direction is complacency, a return of the mindset the nation was in before 9/11. It is here that staying within the consensus of"world opinion" is valued above acting on moral principles. It is here that, we are told, the ethos of the"everything goes" culture must not change. Schools and other civic institutions need more money, but shouldn't come in for fundamental reform.

In the other direction lies a wholly different mindset. Here Sept. 11 is still seen as a turning point not only for foreign policy, but culturally as well. That day marked the coming of an era where America is again confident enough in her ideas of individual liberty to not only encourage their spread abroad (sometimes through forcibly removing dictators) but also to teach them in her schools at home.

This isn't the first time the nation has come upon such a fork in the road. The four presidents that preceded Lincoln--Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan--stayed within the political consensus on slavery. They chose complacency and therefore didn't move the country any closer to solving the most pressing moral problem of their day.

President Bush is not making that mistake. He is taking on the most pressing issue of our times with fundamental changes. He's overhauling the Middle East and other incubators of terror. By liberating Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Bush is creating liberal democracies in the Muslim world that will serve as bulwarks of liberty and the first line of defense against terrorism. On the domestic front, Mr. Bush is pushing to change the landscape as well. Citizens who do not have a sense of the goodness of their nation or even of their own history cannot long be counted on to confront the evils of despotism and terrorism.

Teaching civics, raising education standards and shoring up other religious and civic institutions is perhaps the best way to address this domestic problem. So President Bush has his Faith Based Initiative to end decades of discriminating against religious organizations in government contracts and the No Child Left Behind Act to address failing public schools. And at the National Endowment of the Humanities, the administration has developed a"We the People" initiative.

With a relatively small amount of money--about $100 million over three years--the NEH is supporting projects to teach civics and history around the country. Some grants go to creating new curriculums for public school teachers. Others to giving social-studies teachers refresher courses in American history. A grant to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation is making research on early American slavery in the Chesapeake region publicly available.

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