Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Excellent USA Today Feature on Lincoln

Too often I am critical of USA Today -- or as Stephen Colbert slyly calls it, THE USA Today. Usually I refer to it as McNews because it seems to be a tabloid masquerading as a real newspaper, made up mostly of fast, short (and slight) stories.

But I was surprised to read a lengthy and detailed article about the complexities inherent within Abraham Lincoln. While not exhaustive, the article is an excellent overview of the changing attitudes toward Lincoln, which serve to both de-mythologize the man and yet also make him seem that much more extraordinary.

Click here to read the article, "200 Years Later, a More Complex View of Lincoln."

About half the article recites several of the "hot topic" Lincoln questions: Was he an atheist? Was he gay? Was he married to a shrew? The reporter, Rick Hampson, gives surprisingly meaningful and complete answers to these questions in just a few lines. This would be an achievement for even the foremost Lincoln scholars, and to do it on what I'd imagine was a short deadline is even more impressive.

So I strongly commend this article, though I wish the reporter had interviewed a couple of more people. (Then again, speaking of journalistic deadlines, the reporter might have that wish too.) My only quibble in on the section about "Was Lincoln gay?" Hampson rightly contextualizes the seemingly intimate relationship between Lincoln and his close friend Joshua Speed. However, Hampson does not mention some of the less easily evidence from later in Lincoln's life, in particular some of his relationships with soldiers at the Soldier's Home, Lincoln's "summer White House." These are less easily explained, and muddy the question significantly. (For myself, I don't think they show homosexuality on Lincoln's part; rather, I think they demonstrate a chafing at Victorian bedroom customs.)

No comments: