Lincoln - Douglas Revisited?

“He is a man with tens of thousands of blind followers. It is my business to make some of those blind followers see.” - Abraham Lincoln

Will history repeat itself this year in the Illinois Senate race? This year the Illinois Democratic primary winner Barack Obama will face off against the newly appointed Republican candidate Alan Keyes. Keyes stepped into the race at the request of the Illinois Republican Party after the unfortunate withdrawal of their primary winner Jack Ryan. While many bemoan the entrance of Mr. Keyes into the race, it may just prove to be a historic moment.

In 1858, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln challenged front runner and heavy favorite Stephen Douglas to a series of debates on the path the country was taking. Lincoln wanted to capitalize on his House Divided speech, and was able to lure Douglas into these historic debates. Lincoln had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Douglas was the opposite, he had everything to lose but very little to gain.

In 2004, Alan Keyes and the Illinois Republican Party have nothing to lose. For Democratic superstar Barack Obama, there has to be a concern of what he may lose in getting caught in a national debate. Obama has gone literally unopposed this election cycle and has risen to a national spotlight, highlighted by his keynote address at the Democratic Convention in Boston. His platform and views have gone unchecked thus far.

Like 1858, both Keyes and Obama are fabulous speakers and devoted to their cause. But Lincoln's motivation is much like that of Keyes, to expose his opponent's beliefs to an essentially uninformed public. Illinois voters and the nation as a whole would appear to benefit from the full disclosure of ideas and a debate on their merits. Informing the public about the real issues at stake is of much more historical importance than just a race between these two men, just as it was in Lincoln's day.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were a case of David versus Goliath, with Goliath winning the Illinois Senate seat. But while Douglas won the seat in the Senate, the positions he took in the debates later cost him the presidency. Douglas was forced to take a clear stand on the issues, which won him Illinois but lost him the South. Lincoln did not expect to win, but with his moral stance he was able to elevate the debate to a higher level which was beneficial not only to Illinois, but enriched the nation as well.

In this election, there are two candidates with visions at opposite ends of the spectrum. Where Obama feels the need for government intervention, Keyes believes that it is up to the individual to create their own destiny. Where Keyes feels that the ideals of Federalism are of utmost importance, Obama believes that the role of government is ever changing and must take a larger role in the daily lives of Americans.

Most will agree that Alan Keyes is not the most ideal candidate to face Barack Obama. The main reason being that he is a resident of Maryland. Others argue that he was chosen for his race. We must look past race, cries of "carpetbagging" and ad hominem attacks against both candidates. Let's listen to what they have to say. This is now a battle of ideas. It is in the nation's best interest for the debate to begin. The issues that face this country are very serious, and we must have an honest debate as to the solutions that will best suit our goals and ideals as a nation. Much like Lincoln, the expectation that Keyes can win in Illinois this year is unlikely for many reasons, but having the debate is essential.

Both Keyes and Obama have big shoes to fill in this debate. The only question is whether they will rise to the challenge? For the future of this country, we must all hope so.

Posted by Timothy Perry at August 10, 2004 12:54 PM