I just saw ‘Lincoln.’ I came home with a mind to write a long review of it but I kept veering off on political and historical tangents that, while very relevant to the events of the movie, really had no business being in a review of it. Or do they? Triumphant and tragic, glorious yet poignant, Lincoln is all these things. It’s a 150-minute reminder of how far we’ve come as a country, providing us a crash course in political history and gamesmanship along the way.
Those who follow politics – even passively – will recognize during this film that not much has changed with the official processes and backroom deals that often go hand in hand with getting new laws passed. What may be surprising to many is how the two major parties have realigned ideologically since President Lincoln and his Republican Party expertly manipulated (bribed, threatened) Congress in route to getting the 13th Amendment passed with staunch opposition by the Democratic Party. That aspect of the film could have been about Republican President Theodore Roosevelt’s attempt at Universal Healthcare before he was defeated in 1912. It could have been about Democratic President Woodrow Wilson’s hesitancy to advocate women’s suffrage before finally coming out in favor of it in 1919. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which helped bring the United States out of the Great Depression, met with powerful conservative resistance before most of its measures became law. John F. Kennedy solidified the Democratic Party’s role as the party of civil rights and President Johnson was instrumental in getting major civil rights legislation passed. All of these things were met with fierce conservative opposition – not necessarily Democratic or Republican but conservative – that mindset fueled by fear of change with an all too often undercurrent of hatred toward those who aren’t white enough or rich enough or hetero enough or Christian enough.
Lincoln’s political sequences might also be about President Obama’s fight for the new healthcare law and his looming battles over immigration and gay rights.
Lincoln could be (and should be) a wake-up call to Republicans today who can no longer say with a straight face they’re the party of Lincoln. Our 16th president waged a civil war to preserve the Union. But there are very loud voices in the GOP today that advocate secession. Lincoln was a champion of civil rights yet there are legitimate forces within today’s Republican Party trying to make it more difficult for African Americans to vote and who actively campaign against equal rights for gay Americans. Republicans in my neck of the woods immerse themselves in a culture of the confederacy, wave rebel flags, yet say they ‘want their country back.’ Exactly which country do they want back?
Among many scenes in which Daniel Day Lewis’s Lincoln spoke with reverence about his desire to free the slaves and preserve the union, Tommy Lee Jones, portraying Thaddeus Stevens, had a very powerful moment while speaking to the House of Representatives in which he stated every human – regardless of their color, intellect, strength or status in life – was equal in the eyes of the law. After their bruising defeat in the presidential election two weeks ago, the GOP would do well to remember that.
There was one scene – the heartbreaker – near the end of the movie where President Lincoln, having passed the 13 amendment and won the war – was preparing to leave the White House for the theater where he’d be assassinated later that evening. We watch him walk away, his back to us until he eventually becomes a silhouette. Fitting. And the movie could have ended there. The rest, we know.