Obama still looks to Lincoln for inspiration
AMERICA:Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln is a gripping account of political process
President Barack Obama invited director Stephen Spielberg, the actor Daniel-Day Lewis and the cast of the film Lincoln to a screening at the White House on Thursday, the eve of its distribution nationwide.
It is a safe bet Obama was one of the most ardent viewers. As a senator, he used to seek inspiration at the Abraham Lincoln memorial at night. As president, he was sworn in on Lincoln’s Bible and has several times invited the nation’s leading historians to dinner at the White House, to ask them what Lincoln and other great presidents would have done in his position.
There on the screen was Day-Lewis, in a phenomenal performance that is already tipped for an Oscar, embodying the idealistic and pragmatic president in the aftermath of a hard-won re-election.
With his reedy Illinois drawl, bawdy humour, humanity, melancholia and above all skill as a political strategist, Day-Lewis is Lincoln.
Lincoln faced a dilemma in the winter of 1864-65.
The Union army had turned the tide and the Confederates wanted to sue for peace, but on terms that would ensure the perpetuation of slavery. Lincoln was convinced his 1862 emancipation proclamation would not be sufficient; he needed a 13th amendment to the constitution, abolishing slavery forever. Peace and the amendment were in conflict.
Lincoln was forced to drag out negotiations until he could push the amendment through Congress.
Although it shows the carnage of the Civil War, Spielberg’s film is above all a gripping account of a normally tedious subject: political process.
In one of the most powerful moments of the film, an awe- inspiring Lincoln pounds on the table before the January 31st, 1865, vote on the amendment. “I am the president of the United States of America, clothed in immense power. You will procure me these votes!” he declares.
Spielberg, it will be recalled, donated $1 million to Obama’s re-election campaign.
Michael Hogan, the arts and entertainment editor for the Huffington Post, calls that scene a “memo to President Barack Obama from your powerful friends in Hollywood: You are the president of the United States, clothed in immense power. Now use it.”
The film is a reminder that Congress has always been a den of reprobates, that US politics have always been contentious. The debate on the 13th amendment lasted three weeks.
Watching Republicans and Democrats hurl insults at one another amid flights of brilliant rhetoric, you can’t help longing for the epoch of orators, before congressmen read teleprompters to camera in front of an empty chamber.