My 8 year-old son, Booker, could not get enough of President Abraham Lincoln’s final hours during our visit to Ford’s Theater.  He was fascinated, like most 8 year-old boys, with the intrigue surrounding the assassin John Wilkes Booth, his gun, and Lincoln’s bloody overcoat still on display at the theater.  

                Our time at Ford’s Theater was a highlight from my family’s trip to Washington, DC last month for congressional swearing-in ceremonies.  In a city filled with history, Ford’s Theater did a particularly good job making the history that happened there come alive for Booker and the rest of our family.  

                This month as we celebrate both Lincoln’s birthday and President’s Day, we should remember one of our greatest Presidents for more than his tragic death.  Lincoln was a man known for his humility and his perseverance.  Lincoln also knew what men were capable of, both good and bad.  He, in fact, led our country through some of the darkest days in American history during the Civil War. 

                Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”   

                The set of challenges we face today are quite different from those of Lincoln’s day.  Our union does not literally hang in the balance, yet we do face tough fiscal choices.  How we respond, as leaders in Washington, to these challenges will test our character. 

                The easy thing will be to politicize these tough decisions.  Some politicians might choose to pit interest groups against each other – favoring some over others for political reasons.  Some will choose to scare seniors with threats about cutting Medicare and other entitlement programs for current beneficiaries.  (For the record, no one is proposing cutting benefits for today’s retirees or those near retirement.)   Some will use the threat of a government shutdown to further their own political agenda rather than using the critical decision point to reform the way Washington does business.

                It is my hope that we take the higher road.  I hope that the debate remains squarely on the need to turn our economy around.  I believe we can restore our economy by spending less than we take in and giving our small businesses more regulatory and tax certainty so that they can begin hiring again.

                The South Dakotans I speak with in grocery stores and at basketball games seem to inherently know we are at a critical crossroads as a nation and they are ready for their leaders in Washington to live up to the tough decisions they know we must make.  They are ready for politicians in Washington to act like adults and make tough decisions.

As Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”  Now, as much as we ever have, we need real leadership in Washington, DC.

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