The Lincoln Movie and Confessions of a RINO

This Post combines two unrelated topics as implied by the title.  Why?  Because I want to.   Since writing my last post I ran across a piece titled:  What’s True and False About the Lincoln Movie, by Harold Holzer, a Lincoln authority who served as an adviser to the film.   Holzer gives a much fuller picture of the extent to which the film reflects historical reality than I did.

Also, he makes a point worth noting about the relationship between history and fiction.    As producer/director Steven Spielberg has stated:   While…  “it’s a betrayal of the job of the historian,……One of the jobs of art is to go to the impossible places that history must avoid.”  Harold Holzer adds:  “There is no doubt that Spielberg has traveled toward an understanding of Abraham Lincoln more boldly than any other filmmaker before him.”

NOTE:  I would not read Holzer’s piece until after I had seen the movie as some of the factual inconsistencies, though minor,  might interfere with the viewing experience.

By the way, I have a confession to make.  That last post drew an additional 93 readers who apparently were Googling for information about the Lincoln movie, so besides wanting to point out Holzer’s article, I want to see if the Lincoln movie attracts more attention.  Let me repeat, the Lincoln movie, the Lincoln movie, the Lincoln movie.


English: Crude drawing of the "No RINO&qu...

English: Crude drawing of the “No RINO” buttons used by American Republicans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In case you haven’t run across the term, RINO stands for Republican in Name Only.   The term is applied by the right to those whom they see as liberals in Republican clothing, a growing number in recent years as the Republican Party has moved further to the right.  Bruce Bartlett is a great example as he has been a Republican lifer as revealed in this piece he recently wrote for the The American Conservative.  In fact, he has so many Republican bona fides the list makes up about one-third of the article.

He goes to such great lengths because he wants to convince readers that he is not a liberal or a Democrat.   He is a Republican who thinks his party has gone crazy, not exactly his description, but close.   Bartlett does a great job of describing his own intellectual journey as well as the rightward movement of his party, which has left him feeling “center-left”.

I obviously like him as that’s where I see myself and much of what he says I have already inferred from other sources.  Though he wouldn’t go this far,  I would say like me he has become a Democrat by default.

David Frum and Andrew Sullivan (links to their blogs in Blogroll to the upper left) also tend to look RINOish from a right perspective, especially Frum, while David Brooks seems to fit there along with Kathleen Sullivan, two other well known columnists.

The others would not likely describe themselves as center-left, but they certainly must look that way as viewed by the far right.  At some point I will do at least one post on them as they are all essentially centrist in nature, a center I would like to help develop through this blog.  In case you haven’t inferred that as yet.

For now,  go read Bartlett’s article.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

LINCOLN: The Movie and a Bit More

I saw the new movie Lincoln a few days ago and recommend it, which probably just puts me at the bottom of  a long list of reviewers who already have.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (Photo credit: casually_cruel)

As a film the only point I wish to make is that Daniel Day Lewis is extraordinary.   For me he carried the movie because he was Abraham Lincoln, the Lincoln that fit images I’ve developed through my reading of several books on the period.   His movements, his voice and his personality all seemed Lincolnesque, aided by a weight loss by Lewis, a perfect makeup job and a good script.

For history buffs like me, accuracy is important and I’m happy to report the depiction is very close to historical accounts, not only to that of A Team of Rivals, its primary source, but other historical accounts as well.  While no doubt most of the lines were created, the lines that are most significant in the movie are actual quotes, not something clever dreamed up by the script writer (*1).   A surprising scene at the end of the movie is more rumored than proven fact, but it has not been disproved, either.

While a character study of Lincoln, the movie is about the passing of the 13th Amendment which cemented into law the freedom of former slaves.  The Emancipation Proclamation had only been a presidential decree applying only to the states that had seceded, so it did not settle the issue and could have been overturned after the war without this amendment (*2).

That’s why Lincoln put so much energy and manipulative skill into getting this past and if you don’t already know, it was an unlikely feat which prompted “twisting arms and doling out projects, dangling offices in front of congressmen to help them make up their minds” (*3).

Watching Lincoln in action reminded me of President Lyndon Johnson who was a master of nitty-gritty politics.   President Obama has not been, but not only has he read Team of Rivals but also chatted with author Doris Kearns Goodwin and other historians about it at a White House dinner.  I do not know how much arm twisting I favor, but I would certainly like to see the President become more directly involved in key negotiations with Congress than he appeared to be in his first term.

The movie could hardly be more timely.   We think of ourselves as polarized these days and we certainly are, but we are not to the point of taking up arms and killing each other.   More Americans soldiers were killed during the Civil War than any other war, close to the number of all of our other wars combined.  And we killed each other.

I think of it as the price belatedly paid for our constitutional solution which established our nation but allowed the preservation of slavery in the process.   From the perspective of that life and death struggle, in which the union did prevail at such a high cost over those who insisted ultimate sovereignty remained in each state, the secessionists of our time seem like children acting out.

Our divisions are not nearly as deep as at the time of the Civil War.   However, we do face huge political/economic problems that do not afford simple solutions, like winning a war.  Complexity combined with misinformation has produced an intractable polarization.  A Gordian Knot.

The irony in all of this is despite the loss of some of our previous economic advantages in the world, we still have many things in our favor if we could only overcome our ongoing political stalemate.   Oddly perhaps, I am reminded of the words of President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression:  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The difference today is the only thing we have to fear is ourselves.


(*1)   For me the most memorable political movie line that was made up by a script writer was “follow the money” in All the Presidents’ Men (1976), about Watergate.

(*2)  The 13th Amendment freeing the slaves is supremely ironic.   Shortly prior to Lincoln’s inauguration, Congress passed a 13th amendment which would have had the opposite effect.   To assuage the fears of southerners, it guaranteed that the federal government would not interfere with a state’s laws regarding slavery.  It lost its chance at  becoming law because the Civil War broke out.

(*3)  As quoted from President Lincoln:  The Duty of a Statesman, William Lee Miller.