Hollywood might have a thing or two to teach Barack Obama…
WITH the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, there is no more revered figure in American politics than Abraham Lincoln. In announcing his first campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama did everything but don a stovepipe hat to evoke the Great Emancipator. The comparisons came easily enough, as the gangly lawyer from Illinois with little political experience declared his intention to unite the country and overcome “the smallness of our politics”.
But the better angels of our nature, those stubborn brutes, do not always respond to eloquent speeches. Sometimes the mundane and messy bits of politics cannot be transcended and instead must be mastered. If Mr Obama missed this lesson during his first term in office, he can sit through it again in Steven Spielberg’s new movie “Lincoln”, which opened on November 9th in America.
The film focuses on the last four months of Lincoln’s life, during which he is faced with a complex set of challenges. The civil war is coming to an end, perhaps too soon for the president, who is played brilliantly by Daniel Day-Lewis. Lincoln implores the House of Representatives to speed through a constitutional amendment banning slavery, lest a defeated South revert to its old ways. But the legislation is doomed unless he can hold together an unwieldy coalition of his own Republicans, and win over a recalcitrant group of Democrats.
The means by which Lincoln pulls off this feat are not pretty. To square his own party, the president asks those calling for full racial equality to moderate their views. He then picks off his Democrats with a combination of cajolery, patronage and threats, dispensed by an amusing team of political fixers. The grinding work of the legislative process makes for a surprisingly tense drama.
Through it all, Mr Spielberg’s Lincoln is fully engaged, with Mr Day-Lewis conveying the weariness of a man locked in battle with half the nation. The juxtaposition with Mr Obama is obvious. Criticised for his aloofness, the current president has often seemed removed from the political process–he has done little to nurture relationships with Republicans, while allowing others to craft his legislation. His presidency, as a result, has hardly been Lincolnesque. The comparison is in many ways unfair. But it was Mr Obama who first made it.
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