Last night I went to Spielberg’s and Kushner’s Lincoln, after having been apprised of the historical and political limitations of the film. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed. The writing, acting, and direction were all splendidly done. Some moments were a bit schmaltzy, but not too much so. It was very restrained for a Steven Spielberg film. This film instilled in me a greater respect for Lincoln and for Thaddeus Stevens.
There has bee a lot of sniping at the film from some left-wing websites. It seems to me that what has provoked them is not so much the film itself, but the liberal politics of Kushner and Spielberg. In interviews, Kushner has compared Obama to Lincoln. Eve worse, he has taken a reactionary view of Reconstruction, claiming that
- The inability to forgive and to reconcile with the South in a really decent and humane way, without any question, was one of the causes of the kind of resentment and perpetuation of alienation and bitterness that led to the quote-unquote ‘noble cause,’ and the rise of the Klan and Southern self-protection societies.
What’s interesting to me is that Kushner’s own screenplay contradicts his arguments. In it, Lincoln is not a cautious compromiser like Obama. In fact, he never really compromises at all. Instead, he uses various methods, some of them quite ruthless, to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolishes slavery. The closest he ever comes to compromise is when he agrees to meet with a Confederate “peace” delegation, in order to get conservative Republicans to back the Amendment. Yet he delays meeting with the delegates, fearing that if the war ends, Congress won’t pass the Amendment. When he finally does meet with them, after the Amendment has been ratified, he finds that they are unrepentant slave-owners who want to preserve slavery. “Slavery is done,” he tells them, ending the negotiations.
I don’t know how Kushner came to his views on Reconstruction, but his idea that Obama is somehow like Lincoln is common among liberals. Obama has done nothing to earn this comparison, just as he did nothing to earn the Nobel Peace Prize. The only thing he has in common with Lincoln is that both men are hated by Southern racists. When I lived in Eugene, Oregon; there was a restaurant there that had on one of its wall a drawing of Obama with a stovepipe hat and a Lincolnesque beard. The image was so large that it was almost impossible to ignore it. There is something about this sort of thing that is almost akin to the worship of the Kim family in North Korea. All right, that may be going a little far, but you have to admit that there is the same desire for a hero in each.
One of the things I liked about this film is its sympathetic portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens (brilliantly played by Tommy Lee Jones). Perhaps this film will reawaken an interest in Stevens. In addition to his opposition to slavery, this was a man who championed the rights of women, of Native Americans, of Chinese immigrants, and of Jews. He was a seminal figure in the forgotten history of American radicalism.