Friday, October 23, 2009

Abraham Lincoln, Part III: On Tom Perriello and the Youth Vote

This week's speaker at "Abraham Lincoln: Now He Belongs to the Ages" was Michael Holt. Professor Holt gave a great lecture about some of the political party nitty-gritty surrounding Lincoln's presidency.

After prefacing his lecture with the caveat that he enjoys being contrarian (and believes that one role of the academic is to question conventional wisdom), Holt argued that Lincoln was not nearly as devoted to the Republican Party as most political historians would have one believe.

Instead, Lincoln was interested in creating a Union Party which would draw support from both the North and South. Holt cited to certain of Lincoln's cabinet choices (including Montgomery Blair and William Seward) as evidence supporting his thesis, as well as Lincoln's repeated push-back against Congressional Republicans and his initial reluctance to permit black troops in the Union Army (because of fear about alienating southern Unionist support).

I'm not sure I was convinced by Holt's argument. I do, however, love the contrarianism (and I'll have his argument in mind if I end up re-reading the David Herbert Donald biography).

One of the more interesting points from Holt's lecture: Lincoln garnered a very large portion of the youth vote in the 1860 election, and Republican strategists worried that young people might not come out to vote again in 1864 (did they? unfortunately, I was unclear on this point).

Holt then analogized to Tom Perriello (who he referred to as Tommy - a detail that I loved).

He said that he was struck by the enormous number of young people who enthusiastically campaigned for Perriello last year (he talked about the hoard of bleary-eyed collegians on election day at Venable), and he said that Perriello should be worried that -- without Obama on the ticket in 2010 -- the youth vote may not re-materialize.

I think this is exactly right -- and it has me more worried about Perriello's chances for re-election next year than does a resurgence of Republican organization/activity in the 5th District. I assume that Perriello is laying a strong foundation for mobilizing the teen/college/20's/30's vote again, but there's an awful lot of evidence that younger voters don't turn out for off-year elections.

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