20 January 2010

New Jersey's "Last Best Hope"

Chris Christie, during his inaugural address Tuesday, twice invoked our sixteenth president. Once near the end of his speech when he quoted Lincoln, at a stop in Newark in 1860 on his way to Washington, D.C. to be sworn in, telling the assembled, "Without the people I cannot hope to succeed; with them I cannot fail", and once near the beginning when our new governor said this:

"You voted loudly and clearly for change and you have entrusted us with what may be our last, best hope for a stronger New Jersey."
The phrase "last, best hope" comes from Lincoln's annual address to Congress in December 1862.

"Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless."

For Abraham Lincoln, the "last, best hope of earth" is the United States itself. His intention was not just to preserve the union, but to perfect it through the abolition of slavery. Only then would our nation be exalted above all others and be worthy of God's blessing.

For Chris Christie, the "last, best hope for a stronger New Jersey" seems to be change. In other words, anything other than what has previously been attempted. There is a note in this phrase of both desperation and idealism - a tone that has been carried forward from his campaign.

Like Lincoln and the U.S. Congress of 1862, Chris Christie, our assemblymen, and our senators, "hold the power, and bear the responsibility" for bringing New Jersey back from the brink. So, perhaps, they are our last, best hope.

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