We are taught that one of Lincoln’s countless virtues was his patience. “Look to Lincoln for how to lead,” we are instructed. Go see Spielberg’s hit film “Lincoln” – and you too will see evidence of how politically advantageous is limitless patience.
But that was then – and this is now. The second decade of the 21st century is radically different from the seventh decade of the 19th. This is an era in which events seemingly move at warp speed, when technology governs communication and dissemination of information, when the rush to judgment is more hasty than before, and when leaders have less power and influence and followers more. The task of getting political work done – for example, of drafting a new law and getting it passed – is therefore different, more onerous, than it was 150 years earlier.
In the last several weeks have been two catastrophes – one at home, the other abroad – both of which demand remedial action. The first was the massacre (26 died) in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut; the second was the fatal fire (112 died) at a garment factory in Bangladesh. In both cases disaster was followed by an outcry. In the U. S. were immediate calls for change ranging from new gun control laws lo greater national attention to mental health. In Bangladesh was an immediate government inquiry, charging “unpardonable negligence” and demanding new public sector controls over private sector enterprises.
The presumption is that a leader like Lincoln would, even under these circumstances, counsel patience . But the question is whether in this day and age patience is the political virtue that it is said to have been at an earlier time. It could be that circumstances now dictate just the opposite. It could be that unless leaders and followers press the issue in the immediate wake of disaster, the opposition will harden and the moment for change will have come and then gone.