- Drug-filled drone crash outside S.C. prison sends police on alert
- GOP to Obama: Take your ‘golf cap off’ and get down to coal country
- Hamas cleric tells Jews: ‘We will exterminate you’
- San Diego Costco, Target shoppers shocked by plane crash in parking lot
- George W. Bush penning biography of father
- Israel vows to destroy Hamas tunnels
- Spain evacuates staff from embassy in Libya
- Peace Corps evacuates over Ebola fears; 2 volunteers isolated
- House overwhelmingly approves $16 billion cash infusion for VA overhaul
- Obama admin to blame for HealthCare.gov woes, $840M cost: GAO
FIELDS: Lincoln re-examined
Spielberg portrays leader’s maturation from rube to hero
Question of the Day
Every schoolchild with enough smarts and curiosity to get beyond the latest “Call of Duty” video game ought to go see the movie “Lincoln,” and check out the references and his own attention span. It requires patience, but it shows through dramatic action how a self-taught rustic from the deep backwoods had the emotional and intellectual discipline to overcome poverty and grow up to be a president to rank among the greatest.
This is not about the American Dream or a Horatio Alger story. (Does anybody remember him?) Nor is it myth-making. It’s made of sterner stuff than that. Although there are 16,000 or so books about Lincoln, and a famous movie with Henry Fonda as the young Lincoln, this late portrait contains enough freshness to animate anyone eligible to watch a movie with the PG-13 rating.
To whet an appetite, there’s the excerpt available online in which the president, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, explains his political philosophy to two young men working in the White House telegraph office. Lincoln recalls Euclid’s 2,000-year-old dissertation on mechanical reasoning, the principle that “things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” Euclid says it’s “self-evident.” Lincoln agrees.
Such nuggets of wisdom abound, along with references from Shakespeare and a bawdy story about a portrait of George Washington hanging in an outhouse to inspire relief for British soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Lincoln was a learned man but he was earthy, too. He drew on deep learning and applied it widely. He talks in parables and finds a story to illustrate just about every situation and strategy. In one scene, while he waits with his Cabinet for news of the shelling of Wilmington, N.C., he begins a story: “I heard tell once.” The phrase so exasperates Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that he walks away, telling the president, “I don’t believe that I can bear to hear another one of your stories right now.” This is no marble president on a pedestal.
But Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is an epic of sorts. It begins in the middle of things. The Civil War, though nearing the end, has been going on for four years. Lincoln is the old “war horse,” but unlike Mr. Spielberg’s earlier movie of that name, “Lincoln” has only one brutal battle scene. The most poignant evocation of war shows Lincoln riding through a field of ripped and rotting corpses, and the president takes off his stovepipe hat in homage to the dead: North and South, Americans all. This is not a hymn to “arms and the man” so much as a long, mournful dirge played on the strings of banjos, fiddles and the keys of a parlor piano. It’s as gritty and earthbound as the America of Mark Twain.
This “Lincoln” is not about heroism and ideals, but about reality and fighting for what’s right, even when “right” is seen from two distinctly different points of view — or as Lincoln puts it, “the right as God gives us to see the right.” If there was no room to compromise over slavery before the war, the struggles for compromise are not over afterward because the winds of war still blow. They merely change direction.
While every schoolchild knows that Abe Lincoln freed the slaves, not many that I’ve met actually know how he did it. Few seem to understand that the Emancipation Proclamation freed only the slaves in the 11 Confederate states. Fewer still know why Lincoln thought it crucial before he began his second term, and before the war was over, to enact the 13th Amendment to give all men equality under the law. That’s the tight focus of the movie.
I watched “Lincoln” with two precocious teenagers, who in spite of their bravado and smarts leaned toward the screen to listen closely to Lincoln’s complicated and legalistic explanation of why the country needed the 13th Amendment. They conceded they learned things they didn’t know about both the law and Lincoln. (So did I.)
This is a talky movie. Compared to popular 3-D spectacles, it’s muted and low-key. Many reviewers have written about how it’s “relevant” today, and that Barack Obama could learn from Lincoln’s cunning to keep from falling off the “fiscal cliff.” Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican abolitionist from Pennsylvania, castigates Lincoln for his inability to win legislative compromise. “I lead,” Lincoln says, “You ought to try it.”
It’s about a lot more than relevance. The movie informs as it entertains, engages, enrages, champions, challenges and reminds once again how hard it is to bring about change in a democracy — and do it with malice toward none.
Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
TWT Video Picks
By Ted Cruz
Israel saves its enemies; Hamas endangers its friends
Get Breaking Alerts
- Geraldo Rivera: Matt Drudge 'doing his best to stir up a civil war'
- Al Gore's climate-changers at EPA hearings foiled by cool temperatures
- Chicken pox outbreak puts illegal immigrant facility on lockdown
- EDITORIAL: The real Lois Lerner exposed in newly released emails
- NAPOLITANO: Is the president incompetent or lawless?
- House votes to sue President Obama over claims of presidential power
- 'Big Bang' star Mayim Bialik helps send bulletproof vests to IDF
- Lois Lerner hated conservatives, new emails show
- Star witness in Bob McDonnell corruption trial refutes 'crush' defense
- CRUZ: A tale of two hospitals: One in Israel, one in Gaza
Recent Letters to the Editor
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Politics and corruption driving water woes
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Laws should target criminals, not the law-abiding
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Temple Mount is still Judaism's holiest site
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: If Israeli laid down its arms
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Stop silence on relocations of illegal aliens