In the Arena

Lincoln Lessons

  • Share
  • Read Later

Seems everyone in the political world was talking about Spielberg’s splendid Lincoln this weekend. It turns out to be a movie about a living, breathing, horse-trading, occasionally mendacious genius of a politician. It resurrects the noble greasiness of politics at an incredibly appropriate moment: we’re in desperate need of some inspired horse-trading in Washington over the budget and other issues.

And so I think Greg Sargent gets it a bit wrong when he writes that David Brooks, Al Hunt and other take the movie as a celebration of “compromise.” Lincoln doesn’t compromise his principles to win passage of the 13th Amendment. He compromises his morals, a little. He trades jobs for votes. He pulls a Clinton–lawyering the truth–over the question of whether he’s about to commence negotiations with a rebel delegation. That’s the miracle of Lincoln. He practiced the high art of moving history forward via patronage and patronization. Indeed, in a democracy, it is the highest art, the only way great deeds are done. I’ll have more to say about our current need for Lincolnian politics in my print column this week.