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Monday, June 2, 2008

Lindbergh got a lot of air time in Senator Coleman's speech

Senator Norm Coleman’s speech accepting the GOP’s nomination last Friday contained quotes from and allusions to the usual politician’s lineup of historical heroes, including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln (twice!) and Benjamin Franklin. There was even a reference to an unconventional hero or two, such as Julius Irving (“Dr. J”). However, one named kept coming more than the rest -- Charles Lindbergh.

I counted four references to the famed Minnesota aviator. Coleman presumably wanted to make sure to include references to a local hero in his speech. Lindbergh, a farm boy hailing from Little Falls, Minn., apparently filled the bill. The only problem is that this local hero has a somewhat checkered past. Lindbergh’s aviation achievements -- including piloting the first nonstop solo transatlantic flight -- are beyond dispute. He was an air mail pioneer and an inventor. However, he also later became a public spokesperson for a controversial isolationist movement called America First that opposed the United States’ entry into World War II. In 1938, Lindbergh visited Nazi Germany and accepted a medal from Hermann Goring, a decision that would later come back to haunt him. A proponent of eugenics who was very outspoken in his views, Lindbergh was believed by some to be an anti-Semite (a charge he vehemently denied). Certainly some of his statements and writings on the subject of race would not pass muster today.

I don’t suspect that Coleman was thinking of any the darker stuff when he kept bringing up Lucky Lindy. Still, I couldn’t help feeling a wee bit uncomfortable when, in an otherwise nice moment, he referred to the 6-year-old cancer victim he brought up to share the spotlight with him as a “young Lindbergh.” But human beings are complex creatures, while heroes need be very simple ones. Lindbergh had a great spirit of adventure that is worthy of emulation. Let’s just leave it at that.

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