Can learning about Lincoln help unlock partisan gridlock?

Does a two-party system serve the common good, or can it only serve the interests of a particular political party, and its supporting factions? This question, posed by several early presidents, has inspired university professor Richard Etulain to spark community Conversation Projects on the issue throughout Oregon.

On Friday, June 14, at 2 p.m., Etulain, author of “Lincoln’s Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era,” will present historic examples of effective bipartisan mediation under the leadership of President Abraham Lincoln. The free community discussion, “Lessons from Lincoln: Is Bipartisanship Possible?,” is planned at the Museum of the Oregon Territory in Oregon City.

“Lessons from Lincoln” includes free admission to the Museum of the Oregon Territory, 211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City. Visit, or call 503-655-5574, for details.

Etulain, Conversation Project facilitator, believes that as Lincoln “was able to bring a country together again that was badly separated,” his adept strategies across the aisle would quite possibly “help us to get through gridlock and some of the partisan politics we have in our times.”

Conversation Projects are hosted by grants from Oregon Humanities. In the talks, prominent scholars and local thinkers discuss challenging issues in public settings. Facilitators aim to inspire and guide — but not control — the community’s idea-sharing.

Etulain, like filmmaker Steven Spielberg, said he was highly influenced by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” which presented, in Goodwin’s view, Lincoln’s “golden character.”

Lincoln, the 16th president, notably invited men from both parties to be his intimate cabinet of advisers, including those who clearly disagreed with him.

The present system of identification with primarily Republican and Democratic parties emerged in 1864, in the wake of the Northern Abolitionist movement and Civil War era. Clinton, Bush and Obama have all repeatedly phrased a call to put aside differences. But the question remains: can that happen within a two-party system?

Etulain, who has led the discussion “Lessons From Lincoln: Is Bipartisanship Possible” dozens of times with an intention to never reveal his personal politics, says that the program may be especially important to independent, unaffiliated voters. A January 2012 Gallup poll indicated that a record high of 40 percent of voters identify as neither Republican nor Democrat.

“It’s hard to create bipartisanship if people vote straight tickets,” Etulain said.

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