National Review editor Rich Lowry believes that “if you get Lincoln right, you get America right.” Lowry’s latest book, “Lincoln Unbound,” accuses liberals of appropriating and “body-snatching” the beloved president and suggests that Lincoln should be viewed as a beacon of libertarianism and other conservative values. Reclaiming Lincoln’s legacy, he argues, can help the GOP regain its mantle as a party of opportunity and aspiration. He joins us in the studio.

Interview Highlights

Did Liberals ‘Body-Snatch’ Abe Lincoln? 1 July,2013forum

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review magazine

  • Dean

    If Libertarianism is about freedom, then Libertarians ought to accept the individual’s right to embrace all the freedoms that typical conservatives hate, including the freedom to reject religion and god-belief as being worthless and stupid, the freedom to reject repressive social conservatism as you see commonly practiced by religious conservatives, the freedom to be private and not be surveilled by an authoritarian state, and the freedom of any person to do with their body whatever they choose, including various sexual acts, abortion and drug-use.
    When you subtract from conservatism every freedom that Libertarians ought to defend, if they believe in freedom, you are left with an ideology that is closer to that of liberals than to conservatism.
    But Liberals think the government is needed to protect our personal freedoms and ensure fairness, whereas Libertarians think the government will ultimately revoke our freedoms, that it commonly rigs markets and elections to prevent fairness, and that free interchange will bring out fair results.

    • Tiberius

      Whoa, that’s a lot of words. I bet I can express all that in haiku format…

      Right-wing sans head-lock
      Is called libertarian
      And not liberal

    • Chemist150

      You are right. I’m a Libertarian and I voted for Bill Clinton. The Tea Party in general, are not Libertarian and do not mistake them for Libertarians please. Typically but not always, if they’re very religious, they’re not going to be Libertarian. They’re left wingers.

      I like the Dem stances on Gay rights, Women’s rights, etc but I don’t think they can balance a check book and I think that the Healthcare law is going to cost way more than they anticipate given they’ve ignored economic issues that are border based such as economic effects on a state where people can move from that state when the permanent positions drop relative to the “contract” based employment vs. a country where they’re more or less trapped within that economic system. I’m appalled by the fact that 70% of our GDP is government spending (26-40% fed, 10% state and 20% local) before paying debt and cost of the new healthcare law. We pay say 20-35% fed tax, 10% state, 10% sales, plus fees on utilities and services not deemed as “tax”, and increased gas tax. It’s sad that we need to still borrow money.

      In the absence of rank voting on a national level to allow other parties, I’ve always wanted a republican Congress and Democrat President. That way, the fiscal responsibility would be in place but the President could stop them from controlling details of people’s lives.

      • Robert Thomas

        Government spending at a rate of 70% of GDP is an alarming thought. It would be more alarming if it were accurate. According to statistics available from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,

        http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=SNA_TABLE11 ,

        total U.S. government expenditure (federal, state & local) in the United States for 2011 was about $6.25 trillion. GDP was about $15 trillion

        That’s about 42% of GDP, which is admittedly a sizable proportion.

        • Chemist150

          I’d need to see details on that site. Are they including SS and medicare? Do they include the debt payments?

          • Robert Thomas

            Chemist150, another citation can be found by perusing the Wikipedia article “National Government Budgets”


            The figures for 2010 are

            23.8% of GDP federal
            7.9% of GDP state

            allowing 10% to 15% for local (often includes K-12 education) use of GDP implies something around 43% which is consistent with the other source I’ve provided. Note [5] in this article says

            “Data on the United States’ federal debt can be found at U.S. Treasury website. Data on U.S. state government finances can be found at the National Association of State Budget Officers website.”

          • Chemist150

            Local spending is higher than state spending.

            There are a lot of sources but “Federal spending” does not include things like Medicare and Social Security.

            Please include them, find local numbers and get back to me.

          • Chemist150

            Also inclued $220 billion in debt payments a year.

          • Robert Thomas

            You write “There are a lot of sources…”. Such as?

            Taken together, you’ll agree, state and local spending incorporate K-12 education as their largest line item, for most regions. When K-12 spending is directed through the state (as in California), the proportion for state spending is larger; where K-12 education revenue collection and spending are local, the proportion may be reversed.

        • Chemist150

          OK, I looked at it and figured it out. You missed SS and local government. Those fields were left blank and thus added nothing. Medicare was probably excluded.

          Go to the site you posted. Use the drop down to look at specifics and you’ll find that local and SS were left out.

          This is why the politicians are gooffed. The “public debt” is not the “toal debt”. This is also why Mr. Herndon is wrong. You easily left out over 20% there if not 30%.

          • Robert Thomas

            Chemist150, The OECD site includes these options:

            Function: T (Total function; includes #100 Social Protection)
            Sector: GS13; includes
            GS1311 General Government
            GS1312 State Government
            GS1313 Local Government
            GS1314 Social Security Funds

            “S1” as total economy is a conventional appellation. General Public accounts include finance expenditures.

            The OECD statistics are widely cited and not controversial. I don’t see anything left out. What is the source of the figures you assert?

          • Chemist150

            Pull down the Social Security tab and the Local Government tabs.

            The value is “–“. There is no number and thus added as zero to the total. The tab is there but the data is empty.

          • Robert Thomas

            The fact that the data are not broken out in this form doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the consolidated figure. “–” doesn’t mean “0”. In fact, the report expressly says otherwise (“consolidated S13”). These data, as I said, are widely and typically cited by such institutions as the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The New York Times, the Washington Post etc. A typical example can be found here:

            “Global Growth Forecast Hurt by Euro-Zone Pain” -WSJ 5/29/2013

            Are you suggesting that this institution has conspired to make its reports ignore half of government involvement U.S.economic activity? That is absurd. I ask again, what is the source of your assertions?

          • Chemist150

            I’m not suggesting conspiracy. I’m not suggesting the site does not have good data.

            I am suggesting that there is missing data because there is missing data.

            ONE: Social Security is not used in public debt. It’s suppose to be self sufficient but the money is borrowed and debt is created.

            TWO: Local spending which is 10-20% of GDP would be terribly hard to consolidate. That is one reason that they’re not intended to go into debt because it’s hard to track and control a larger economy but it does account for a good % of GDP spending through local revenue of county tax, sales taxes, fees for services, utilities, etc.

            Quit trying to accuse me of think there is some conspiracy because you don’t want to admit all the data is not there. All the data is not there. Period.

          • Robert Thomas

            Chemist150, do you instead mean that the OECD’s “total government expenditure” figure is just an error (by a factor of two?), incompetently made by the institution? I’ve noted that the documents use “0.0” when they mean “0” (as can easily be seen) and “–” when the figures are consolidated. The tables also don’t list federal expenditure by state (or province) or a lot of other details. Do you have some respected source that reports the 70% figure, or any other you cite? Note also the citation from the “government budget” WP article I mention in the post below, in broad agreement with the OECD’s report.

            I agree, Social Security is a general debt obligation. No dispute.

            I can’t tell you what percent of GDP my local government directs. I suspect that it’s probably 5% to 10% for me in California, since unlike some other states a large percentage of K-12 education is (due to the Serrano decisions) managed through the state. I arrive at this range by quickly examining my expenditures on local sales tax, property tax etc against my own income.

  • geraldfnord

    Certainly the Republicans are the party of Lincoln—why else would they have rejected the membership and support of Dixiecrats who fled the Democratic Party because of its finally acting decently, saying, ‘No racist is welcome here!,’—and why else would Nixon have told Kevin Phillips and the other architects of the Southern Strategy to ‘…go take a hike, you bums, I will not be elected by appealing to the bigotry and fears of white people,’?

    And when Ronald Reagan, the very day he announced his presidential bid, castigated the white citizens of Philadelphia, Mississippi, for their failure to bring the racist murderers in their midst to justice—well, that settled it.

    • Robert Thomas

      Hmm. That’s not the Republican Party action I remember. I remember the party which, after his having been infuriated by the Committee on Civil Rights – convening, Civil Rights Act – passing Democratic Party he could no longer recognize, Strom Thurmond was induced to heed the Republican Party’s (“big tent”) call, “Child-raping sociopathic monsters… no room at the inn? Come to us!”

      • geraldfnord

        irony, n.: the use of words that say the opposite of what you really mean

        • Robert Thomas

          geraldfnord, forgive me. I heard someone say, “Play this game: imagine a comment you might read on the internet that is so ridiculous that you would bet ten dollars that it was sarcasm.” It’s a harder game to play than one might first think.

          • geraldfnord

            Sorry for my snark…I, too, at times have been in need of the Hodgman Pocket Literary Tone Detector (pat. pend.).

  • Chris OConnell

    • Tiberius

      Lowry’s claim that Lincoln was not against the banks is very ignorant. Lincoln was an enemy of the banksters and it is quite possible they had him assassinated — you merely need to ask why John Wilkes Booth was meeting with European bankers in Canada. Lincoln printed Greenbacks, and this infuriated the bankers who wanted to control the printing of the US currency, as they do today.

      “Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes the laws.” Mayer Amschel Rothschild

  • djwdoc

    Lincoln a libertarian? He had been a Whig, whose national party platform notably favored Federal infrastructure projects (“internal improvements”) with money raised by imposing a high tariff on imports–something the most wealthy capitalists of the era, the slave plantations owners, hated. Lincoln’s government passed the Homestead Act, which gave to poor people the opportunity to settle land and become property owners. Lincoln would not understand today’s Republican party. To see how far today’s party is from Lincoln’s, read Lincoln’s 1st inaugural address.


    What really seems to be going on here is an ideological project, such as Jonah Goldberg’s claim that Roosevelt was a fascist. Toss the real Lincoln down the memory hole in favor of a Lincoln who can serve modern conservatives? Really? You could with more evidence claim Lincoln was a Marxist–though that would be silly too. Marx (and others) to Lincoln:

    “While the workingmen, the true political powers of the North,
    allowed slavery to defile their own republic, while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master, they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor, or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation; but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.

    The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle or the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    Mr. Lowry said, and i’m paraphrasing: “…no government sponsored transfer of property/wealth from one person to another…”

    um, if i recall correctly slaves were considered property by many state governments, and freeing the slaves resulted in a huge federal government transfer of that property out of the hands of slave holders. Of course, personally i don’t think people, land, air, or water can be considered property and i don’t have a problem with government taking action which radically affects peoples’ lives. But a lot of people then thought very very differently, i am wondering how Mr. Lowry can consider emancipation to be not a radical government act from any angle. seph

  • Chris OConnell

    Why is “a rising tide lifts all boats” a conservative slogan? I think of Bill Clinton while the Republican corollary is Trickle Down. He puts out all these maxims to show Lincoln as a conservative but this presumes the “liberals” are communists. Democrats embrace all those axioms as well.

    • Tiberius

      A rising tide of public debt drowns all citizens.

      I’d nominate that as the Occupy-TeaParty maxim.

      • geraldfnord

        No. We have much lower a debt/G.D.P. than most other comparable nations, some of which are doing better than we are on the ground.

  • Cal M

    In light of the fact that Dick Nixon & Ronald Reagan themselves couldn’t possibly get through a GOP primary today, it’s “creative” at best to try to jam Lincoln into the present incarnation of the party.

  • Richard Seyman

    Lincoln would be right there with Rick Perry and Rick Scott, making sure as few African-Americans can vote as possible, wouldn’t he? I am all for free speech in the arena of public discourse, which is what Forum is all about and why I love the program and am subscriber to it. But, Michael, your choice of guest this time is disappointing. At a minimum, if he is going to get the air time to promote this tripe, he should have had to make his case in the presence of at one reality-based historian. This is flat-earth stuff and air time is a precious resource.

  • Tiberius

    Fixating on bringing legitimacy to your political group by claiming that important dead people were on your side is a waste of time as it is a transparent tactic to distract away from the failings of your argumentation. The Christians tried the same when they claimed Einstein was a staunch believer. It’s an debate tactics you’d expect of high-schoolers.

  • Chemist150

    All economic stimuli aside, there is a fundamental underlying property to labor issues and that is money supply.

    Money supply goes down, labor surplus goes up and wages drop.

    Money supply goes up, labor surplus goes down and possibly a labor shortage will develop and wages increase.

    No matter what the solution is, it has to increase the money supply. Quit borrowing so much money through bonds which decreases money supply in the long run. Work on the trade imbalance which is currently decreasing the money supply.

    Increased taxes temporarily may get us through this money supply shortage but the borrowing has to be seriously reduced and taxes decreased as recovery occurs instead of the usual Democrat stance is to spend every dime and then some and then ask for more.

    • Tiberius

      A debt jubilee in which each citizen receives a voucher to pay off their debts would boost the economy, says economist Steve Keen.

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    “He revered all property rights…”

    again, except in the case of slavery!!! Freeing the slaves was a radical, big government act which required the bloodiest war on this continent to enforce.

    How this translates into “conservative” or “Republican” beats the heck outta me. maybe i’m just deluded, and arguing from one of his lesser-known side projects. steph

    • VegasNed

      Small government types under the label “libertarian” believe in a strong, lean government that protects the rights of individuals and would support federal intervention to free slaves. Less clear on how supportive libertarians would be for the Civil Rights act.

      • geraldfnord

        They’re against it, plain and simple—or should be, if they understand their own ideology.

  • Robert Thomas

    I would have no objection to Illinois snatching the carcass of Ronald Reagan.

  • David Bradford

    As a fellow editor, I wish Mr. Lowry
    well on his book tour. His thesis follows a long tradition of both
    the right and the left vying for the Lincoln mantle. However, the
    notion that Mr. Lincoln was a “libertarian,” is simply incorrect.

    Mr. Lincoln was the original big-government progressive, and believed in extensive regulation of the economy, especially the financial system. To be sure he believed in individual initiative, but repeatedly stated that the role of government was to do for the individual what he could not do for himself.

    From his earliest days as a frontier field-hand, the
    young Lincoln supported “liberal” causes, often at great
    political cost to himself. He supported the first Bank
    of the United States, the nation’s first financial regulator;
    advocated free government land for family farmers; and backed
    mammoth jobs programs, e.g., building a transcontinental railroad.
    Later as president, he introduced the nation’s first income tax on
    the wealthy, and funded new public colleges in the states, of which
    California has several. (land-grant colleges)

    Even on the issue of slavery and race, the young Mr. Lincoln stunned liberals of his era by arguing that the human rights of the Declaration of Independence applied to
    all people, of all colors, everywhere, throughout the world.

    It’s all in his legendary campaign book, VOTE LINCOLN, recently restored from the Library of Congress, and for which I was the editor. Lincoln on Lincoln remains the definitive word.

    David W. Bradford

    • Robert Thomas

      Obviously, it’s very hard to map political ideologies from our era into the one surrounding Abraham Lincoln. That difficulty – near impossibility – makes Lowry’s attempt even less likely to be interesting or useful. Surely though, “progressive” is a little better suited to your language than “liberal”. I think it’s conventional to describe the so-called “American System” advocated by the Whigs as “progressive”, in terms of its era.

      It’s interesting to note that many Libertarians propose that private prosecution and civil litigation are strongly preferred over public administration of law. During most of the 19th century, an emblem of distinction and status that was worn by those of even modest means was the number (not unusually, dozens) of lawsuits and private prosecutions one might have outstanding in the courts. As a circuit litigator, Abraham Lincoln was certainly in favor of a citizen’s right to pursue as many such actions as he pleased.

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    “..when the war ends the tax goes away…”

    for heaven’s sake. Lincoln didn’t live to see the end of the war. It’s been quite a while since i’ve heard such an ill-argued thesis, steph

  • timholton

    Lincoln’s cause was the United States (with emphasis, in the covenant tradition, on United) while Mr Lowry’s cause is conservatism and factional politics. Lincoln didn’t speak a political language that gave primacy to ideological categories like “conservative” and “liberal” or dwell on such distinctions. His concern was not with ideological factions but with real, geographical factions, and with uniting parties, not dividing them.

    I don’t like to question anyone’s patriotism, but I will go this far: Mr Lowry seems to lack a certain self-awareness of being part of an age in which ideological tribalism has replaced authentic patriotism. Most of us (not just Mr Lowry), in lacking meaningful civic engagement, form our identities around ideological “communities.” We are extraordinarily attached to identities described by labels like “conservative” and “liberal” or “progressive.” What strikes me about the politics of the 19th century is the lack of concern for ideological purity in terms of these categories. That is to say, it was a less abstract age; people were more tied to the land and to local communities and were materially engaged in civic affairs, and this orientation, this literal common ground, provided a place for compromise and identifying common interest.

    • Tiberius

      Re ideology:

      Communist Manifesto was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848, 17 years before Lincoln was assassinated by European banking interests.

      • timholton

        If your point is that ideology existed in the 19th century, I don’t disagree. My point is that the public discourse is far more fixated today on ideological factions, categories, and consistency. But maybe I don’t understand the point you’re trying to make.

    • Robert Thomas

      timholton, I admire your sentiment. However, I suggest re-reading the Lincoln and Douglas debates.. It’s hard to imagine a more seriously adversarial, irreconcilable, ideologically-infused set of opinions pitted against one another.


      is a handy portal.

  • Robert Thomas

    In his sixth debate with Stephen Douglas, ridiculing Douglas’s claim (the “Freeport Doctrine”) that “popular sovereignty” would suffice to allow territorial legislatures to ignore the Dred Scott (or any other) decision of the Supreme Court, Lincoln said Douglas’s “thin decoction” of the idea of sovereignty had

    “…got down as thin as the homoeopathic soup made made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.” [much laughter]

    The Party of Taft has been running on just such a thin decoction, its connection to Lincoln, for 150 years. Rutherford Hayes was an admirable man and a competent president but after having lost the popular vote in 1876 and accepting the Democrats’ bargain to pull all federal enforcement of Reconstruction in return for the electoral votes he needed to prevail, any ghost of Lincoln’s ethos that may have survived the Graft – er – Grant administration surely perished.

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