In our current political environment of stark division, the legacy of Abraham Lincoln’s transcendent leadership when our nation was “split asunder” shines as brightly as ever.
So many Americans of diverse and often conflicting political beliefs embrace Lincoln as their role model.
I was reminded of this point just last week when one of Colorado’s most gifted progressive leaders e-mailed me a fascinating article about Lincoln’s friendly exchanges with his contemporary, Karl Marx. This was soon after I had encountered an essay about Lincoln as our nation’s entrepreneur-in-chief.
Both perspectives on Lincoln are right, which offers a powerful example for our troubled nation. And it also underscores how Colorado is uniquely situated to rekindle Lincoln’s much-needed brand of leadership.
Our 16th president shared and incorporated into his remarks many of Karl Marx’s views on the primacy of labor over capital. In his first annual message as president, Lincoln wrote: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
Lincoln also embraced and as president skillfully leveraged the free market. Among his many distinctions, he is the only president ever to hold a patent (for a device designed to enhance river navigation by lifting vessels over obstructions).
And Lincoln’s praise for patent laws remains a timely description of the virtues of a free market and entrepreneurship to drive economic growth and prosperity, having “secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.”
Lincoln’s capacity to find coherence and value in seemingly warring ideas is in short supply today. This is where Colorado, with its distinctive political history and diversity, can play a critical role in sustaining our most revered president’s legacy. No state better exemplifies the potential for how, in the spirit of Lincoln, the best of even deeply conflicting views can be weaved into our national landscape.
Colorado’s registered voters are one-third Democrat, Republican and unaffiliated. Our state was at the forefront of founding both the Chicano political organization, La Raza Unida Party; and the anti-government Libertarian Party, which was first developed in Westminster and formally launched in Colorado Springs.
We have repeatedly elected left-of-center and right-of-center candidates for statewide office who are more inclined to work across the aisle than most of their counterparts across the nation in these increasingly partisan times. And Colorado has avoided for the most part the bare-knuckled political campaigns of other states, so often defined by personal attacks and the politics of destruction.
In Colorado, we also have shown that an inclusive agenda and vibrant economy can and must go hand-in-hand. We are a state in which a profound appreciation for our natural resources and Teddy Roosevelt-style environmentalism is accompanied by a healthy animus toward unduly burdensome regulations.
Colorado has a well-earned reputation for collaboration across other divides beyond politics, which has attracted to our state a wide range of talented individuals from entrepreneurs to musicians. “I was just so used to having my guard up, and someone wanting something if they were going to be that nice,” said Wes Schultz of the Lumineers, who moved here from New York City. “I didn’t understand the social norms.”
In his enduringly influential essay on healthcare in our country, Atul Gawande cites Grand Junction as a model of quality, cost-effectiveness and shared accountability, where “doctors collaborate to increase prevention and the quality of care, while discouraging overtreatment, undertreatment, and sheer profiteering.” He contrasts this to regions where health care costs are high and quality is low.
Gawande discusses the enormous influence of “anchor tenants” that help establish the prevalent customs and practices of a community.
“The anchor tenants that set norms encouraging the free flow of ideas and collaboration, even with competitors, produced enduringly successful communities, while those that mainly sought to dominate did not.”
Colorado has an abundance of people and organizations that serve in this anchor tenant role, that establish the standards of collaboration and civil dialogue to which others, longtime Coloradans and newcomers alike, are expected to adhere. This is why the “slash and burn” approach doesn’t work any better here in business than it does in politics.
With countless examples of collaboration in virtually every sector of our state — our own “teams of rivals” working together for the public good while still competing and forcefully articulating contrasting values and positions — Colorado can lead the way as an “anchor tenant” for restoring civility and bipartisanship and detoxifying our national politics.
Shepard Nevel is the CEO of Jaywalk, a health technology company, and senior policy adviser to the U.S. Senate campaign of former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.