Good morning, it’s Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, the day of the week I relate a quote meant to be inspirational or thought-provoking. Today is also the day after Thanksgiving during a year when it has been difficult to even see our nation’s blessings, let alone thank a higher power for them, which is what Abraham Lincoln urged Americans do when he designated the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”
Think about that for a moment. Lincoln’s proclamation was issued on Oct. 3, 1863, three months after Gettysburg, and only 10 days after Union forces were routed at Chickamauga in the second bloodiest engagement of the Civil War. It seems incongruous, to say the least.
Life is often that way, isn’t it? “Incongruous” is too mild a word for the colonists who founded a new nation devoted to “freedom” at a time when slavery was woven into the fabric of the society they were carving out of a wilderness -- land that was not, by the way, uninhabited when they arrived from Europe.
(Seventy-four years to the day before Lincoln’s Thanksgiving pronouncement, George Washington issued a similar proclamation of thanks “for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war…in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and …for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”)
Yet, the evolution of freedom and liberty continued apace after 1789, as it did after 1863. By 2003, George W. Bush extended this concept to its ultimate conclusion: “The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world,” Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union address. “It is God’s gift to humanity.”
This perception, which Bush had expressed before, wasn’t universally appreciated among his contemporaries. For one thing, the 43rd U.S. president was employing an attractive idea in service of decidedly unattractive foreign policy -- another war in Iraq. It also raised consequential metaphysical questions: How do we measure freedom? Should we trust, not just government, but our own eyes and ears? Can we safely rely on our personal perceptions of liberty? Of reality? Of the beautiful things in the world?
For an answer to those questions I’ll turn this morning not to presidents or philosophers, but to three young women from the 20th century who expressed themselves from their own personal experiences, and did so from the heart.
First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters, columnists, and contributors, including the following:
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Utah’s “Boy Scout” Governor-Elect: Oddity or Exemplar? Phil Wegmann profiles Spencer Cox, whose get-along messaging counters the oppositional ethos of U.S. politics.
The Electoral College Works Against Fraud. Tara Ross argues that the best way to restore confidence in our elections is to let our time-honored process play out.
Five Facts on Appropriation Bills. With a Dec. 11 deadline looming, No Labels has this primer at RealClearPolicy.
No Matter How Georgia Goes, Golden Gridlock Is Here to Stay. At RealClearMarkets, Ken Fisher writes that razor-thin electoral margins mean big legislative change is highly unlikely, which is good news for stock markets.
Free Speech Suffers Most on New England Campuses. At RealClearEducation, Samuel J. Abrams spotlights more findings from the 2020 college survey.
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In early December 1957, a girl from Lithuania -- a refugee -- won an oratory contest in the Washington, D.C., area called “I Speak for Democracy.” In her speech, she described liberty as “something that is felt with the heart rather than seen by the eyes.” Quote-smith Garson O’Toole, who unearthed this reference, was struck by how similar it is to a well-worn Helen Keller quotation one finds on T-shirts and various (and highly dubious) Internet quotation collections.
I’m struck by it, too. The famous Helen Keller line is: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart.”
But did Helen Keller really say this? If so, was the poignant thought hers to begin with? The answers are that, yes, she wrote something quite similar -- and although it wasn’t originally her idea, the sentiment was meant for her. The observation was related to Keller by her extraordinary teacher, Anne Sullivan, as a way to inspire Helen to overcome her disabilities.
In her 1905 autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” Keller republished a letter she’d written at age 10 to the Rev. Phillips Brooks, one of her benefactors.
“I used to wish that I could see pictures with my hands as I do statues, but now I do not often think about it because my dear Father has filled my mind with beautiful pictures, even of things I cannot see. If the light were not in your eyes, dear Mr. Brooks, you would understand better how happy your little Helen was when her teacher explained to her that the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart. Every day I find out something which makes me glad.”
And that’s our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics