The Wall Street Journal: How Honest Is 'Honest Abe'?

February 16th, 2012

The Wall Street Journal
By Peggy Noonan
February 16, 2012

A man’s voice, urgent:

“America is in crisis. It feels like we’re coming apart.”

Shots from a hand-held camera—blurry, indistinct. Angry citizens, protests. Closeup on a bearded young man, his face distorted by rage.

“We face unprecedented challenges.”

Cuts of lonely farms, small houses with for-sale signs. A little girl with pleading eyes.

“Is this any time for inexperience?”

A tattered flag blows in the wind.

“One candidate has silky words, but what do they mean? What do we really know of him?”

Video shot from behind a candidate who stands at a podium. We see his back, the jerky movement of his arms. We see faces in the crowd—confused, shaking their heads. Are they being gulled?

“His backwoods chatter can’t hide the facts. He’s never had a college education—or any education at all. He claims he read the classics at night, by candlelight. But that’s not really what the frontier was about.”

Cut to a raucous bonfire—frantic dancing, men and women, drinking. A hysterical laugh pierces the outer darkness.

“He says he’s for the little guy. Why is he hiding the fact that he’s a big-time lawyer who sold himself to the highest bidder?”

Archival film shot: a saloon table, a wad of bills gathered up by a fat man’s hand. Gleaming cuffs, cufflinks, ruby ring. In the background, a woman’s chuckle. Somehow we know her name is Belle.

“He served just one term in the House—one. And wasn’t reelected.”

Blurry photo of a man. We’re not sure who it is. Slowly it begins to come into focus—stark face, rude cheekbones, slick black hair. Now cut to close-up: his irregular eyes. One pupil is more dilated than the other. He’s cockeyed.

“He ran for the Senate, and failed.”

Video of torches being extinguished. A slump-shouldered voter walks away, alone.

“They said they loved his speeches, but what were they beyond words? His wife? Imperious. His address? Impeccable. As for the family he came from, he left them in the backwoods when he went to the big city.”

Shot of sad, impoverished family in an empty field.

Then quick shots: An honest American worker in front of a toolshed. Yearning families on farms and in cities. A little girl holding a flag, which droops wanly on her shoulder.

“This is a time of crisis—and he’s telling jokes.”

Screen goes black.

“They call him ‘Honest Abe.’ But he’s just another Springfield insider.”

Another man’s voice:

“I’m Stephen A. Douglas, and I approved this message.”


So that’s my Abe Lincoln attack ad. It can claim to be factual, or at least arguable, and the parts that are too mean would ensure it got plenty of free play on “Hardball,” “Special Report” and “Morning Joe,” where we’d all deplore it. Then the Douglas campaign would pull it after complaining they have no control over their stupid, independent Super PAC, Americans for Sort of More Slavery at Least for a While.

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