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Lessons from ‘Lincoln’

December 20, 2012

lincoln_daniel_day_lewisI saw ‘Lincoln’ last night: it’s a rousing, engaging story of one of the greatest Americans and one of his greatest moments, the end of the Civil War. It felt shorter by a bit then its full two hours and, instead of being a cliché war movie, it traced Lincoln’s maneuverings as he secured the passage of the 13th Amendment and the abolition of slavery.

What message, then, does the film address to political leaders of today who hope to emulate Lincoln’s greatness? Play hardball. Do whatever it takes to do what’s right. Lincoln chuckles about suspending habeas corpus, recognizes the questionable legality of the Emancipation Proclamation, tampers with elections and engages in some good old-fashioned almost-bribery to get the Amendment passed. But we judge it as good and understandable, because he’s doing what’s right. Senate Democrats have the opportunity to make the Senate more democratic, both procedurally and practically, by abolishing the filibuster. Hopefully they see this movie, perhaps as a group with free popcorn. And perhaps Democrats should view Republican hardball tactics more comprehendingly (though they don’t deserve the respect give to Lincoln as they’re working for goals somewhat less laudable than the abolition of slavery).

The movie was also unexpectedly lighthearted at points. Day Lewis’s lighthearted storytelling was amusing and charming. Combined with the questionable moves, this allowed the movie to make Lincoln human, instead of the demigod he is most often made out to be.

Update: Looks like Congress actually did see Lincoln together. President Obama saw it as well and his takeaway, which I neglected above, was the necessity of compromise. The drive to do what’s right must be accompanied by an understanding of the opposition’s interests and a willingness to accommodate some reasonable demands. I’m guessing that’s not what House Republicans saw in the movie.

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