Friday, November 06, 2009

McGovern on Abe Lincoln...

From KPBS San Diego:

By Maureen Cavanaugh

These Days | Wednesday, November 4, 2009

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Many books have been written about the life of Abraham Lincoln and many of them have been quite daunting in both length and scope. A new volume, part of the American Presidents Series, manages to present the life, challenges, controversies, victories and tragedies of Lincoln in a clear and compact format. Perhaps that's because the author, my guest Senator George McGovern, after a lifetime in politics, has a unique insight into some of the challenges and hard decisions Lincoln was called upon to make. George McGovern represented South Dakota in the U.S. Senate from 1963 to 1981. He is perhaps best known as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. Senator McGovern is also an historian, the author of more than a dozen books and, along with former Senator Bob Dole, the recipient of the 2008 World Food Prize for his work on an international school food program. And, as I mentioned, his latest book is titled “Abraham Lincoln.” It's a pleasure to welcome you, Senator McGovern, to These Days.

SENATOR GEORGE MCGOVERN (Author): It’s good to be on your program.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Now since you’re an historian, before you wrote this book, you must’ve thought you knew quite a lot about President Lincoln. I’m wondering, did you learn things researching this book that surprised you?

MCGOVERN: Yes, I wouldn’t say any dramatic things that brought me right out of my chair but I did learn the depth of his character better than I had understood it before. He was a great man. He was not only a great president—some historians say our greatest president—but he was a very great human being, overcame incredible handicaps in order to win the White House and then preside, I think, brilliantly as President of the United States.

CAVANAUGH: Now the story, the great story, of Lincoln, his birth in the log cabin, his struggles with his own personal melancholy, his compassion during the war, this has inspired so many Americans, including our current president. And what is it that you think about the way President Lincoln handled adversity that we find so compelling?

MCGOVERN: Well, who would’ve thought that a man with only two years of formal education, even that was hit or miss at times, sometimes dependent on traveling teachers that would visit the village, who would’ve guessed that he could emerge with enough wisdom to become a great President of the United States. But in that less than two years of education that he had, he learned to read and he learned to write, and he never quit. For the rest of his life, he was reading, reading, reading, reading. Every time he could get his hands on a book, he devoured it. His father couldn’t accept that. His father was a hardworking farmer, and that’s a tough job. I know that, having grown up in South Dakota. But when he would assign a task to young Abe Lincoln, frequently an hour later he’d find him leaning up against a tree reading a book, and it drove him wild. The differences between the two men became so intense that Lincoln left home and didn’t even attend his father’s funeral.


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