Steven Spielberg’s sprawling, fascinating film Lincoln opens today with Daniel Day-Lewis starring as our 16th president. Even though Lincoln was a Republican, the film’s screenwriter Tony Kushner told the Hollywood Reporter that the Great Emancipator would scarcely recognize his party now.
“The Republican Party today has turned into a group of people who don’t actually believe that government is a good thing. You can’t have any connection to Abraham Lincoln if you think that. Lincoln was a lawyer who had a profound belief in the conviction that government was a great blessing for humanity, and he certainly wouldn’t have read Ayn Rand. He wouldn’t have had any interest… He was a progressive, centrist candidate who believed in government, taxation, created the federal income tax, created the federal bank, created the draft, believed in a strong federal government and believed in equality, believed that the government had a role to play in protecting in minorities from the majority and tyranny.”
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book Team of Rivals, provides the basis for the film, concurs.
“The Republican Party and the Whig Party, of which Lincoln was a member, believed that government had a role in helping to move the country forward through building dams and dredging rivers and making harbors better, and the transcontinental railroad, much like what we call stimulus today. He also believed government had a role in helping people rise to the level of their talent in their discipline, that sort of equal-opportunity role, in that sense he might find the principles of the Democrats congenial.
FWIW, I saw Lincoln last week and was thoroughly knocked out. The performances are uniformly superb (particularly Day-Lewis, who may have stamped the role for all time) and Kushner’s wonderful script manages to make the political machinations behind the passage of the 13th Amendment (which abolished slavery) into propulsive drama. Lincoln is a big, smart movie about our messy democracy and I can’t wait to see it again. (Plus? Lincoln knew how to tell a joke.)
Have you seen it? Consider this your Lincoln thread for the people, by the people, etc.