Some ink-stained wantwit name Frank Gaffney manufactures Lincoln quotes for the Washington Times, which Lincoln once called "a bastion of shallow little cowards who need two hands to wipe their noses."* Last week, Gaffney quoted Lincoln as having once said "Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged." Lincoln never said that.
But that doesn't matter. Soon a Republican congressman was repeating the fake quote on the House floor during debate over the war. Numerous media poodles followed, and pretty soon reanimated Lincoln was zombie walking through Greenwich Village, feasting on the brains of liberal bloggers.
But truth caught up with Gaffney, and he apologized, sort of, in the Washington Times, which Lincoln also called "a scandalous rag not fit for John Wilkes Booth's privy"*. Gaffney tells his credulous Washington Times subscribers, whom Lincoln onced called "an addle-pated flock of libidinous roosters chasing their peckers"*, that he was merely paraphrasing the Great Emancipator. Then he cherry picked out-of-context Lincoln quotes to make the same point: that Jack Murtha should be hanged for treason.
"Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier-boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?” Lincoln wrote that the Vallandigham “arrest was made because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops; to encourage desertions from the Army; and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to suppress it.”Lincoln scholars know that Honest Abe took extraordinary, extra-legal steps only because the nation was at war with itself. He spoke often of the dangers his country faced from the "uprising" or "insurrection." He wrote, "I concede that the class of arrests complained of can be constitutional only when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require them."
It's hard to know what Lincoln, or even a Lincolnesque American President would do in the wake of 9/11. But one thing is certain - he would distinguish between civil insurrection at home, and a war of choice abroad. And he certainly wouldn't turn the nation's grief and anxiety into a power grab.
* Fake Lincoln quotes