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Friday, April 16, 2010

My Personal Lincoln

I turned 55 this past Friday, Lincoln's birthday. Lincoln died at 54, which brought to mind the old joke (by Tom Lehrer) that "it is people like that who make me realize how little I have accomplished. It is a sobering thought for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead two years."

We remember Lincoln for is his accomplishments in his 5 short years as President. But for me, it is interesting that Lincoln dropped out of politics at one point, returning only in middle age.

Lincoln decided on a career in law and politics quite young - he ran for State Representative here in Illinois at 23, winning when he was 24. He served in the Illinois State Legislature (already known in the 1830s as a pretty wild place, where Lincoln once climbed out a window to help prevent a quorum) , and then for one term in the U.S. Congress.

But after one term in the U.S. Congress, Lincoln dropped from the political scene and concentrated on his law practice to earn money for his family. He only returned in his forties, "aroused" as he put it by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (which, he argued, would allow slavery in any territory), and in a few short years, became a national figure, and then, President.

Scholars now say that it was the totality of Lincoln's experiences - as a politician, an attorney, as a struggling business owner - that made him so able a leader.

I started my career as a federal prosecutor because I thought it was a good way to make a difference and serve the public. Other life experiences - working for a troubled company, personal troubles, and the like, followed. I might have wished to have entered politics earlier in my life. But I have to say that only those life experiences - as a prosecutor, as a lawyer and as a mother - could have given me the judgment, strength and empathy that I think a public servant should possess.

So perhaps middle age is the right time for anybody to pursue her dream

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