Sunday, November 18, 2012

Enlisting Abe

In the Hollywood Reporter noted playwright Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, states our 16th President would be a Democrat today:

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 certainly wouldn’t have read Ayn Rand. He wouldn’t have had any interest.

Actually, Tony, if Lincoln were around today I think he'd stay away from the theatre.

Lincoln was up against an unprecedented threat, fighting to hold a union together, so he needed a strong central government. In fact, he often went against public will to establish one--sometimes in ways that would get him called a fascist or war criminal by today's left.  That hardly means he believed government was simply a good thing--he certainly didn't think much of the one the Confederates created. (In fact, Lincoln is about his strenuous activities to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which greatly limited what governments could do.)

But Kushner's not alone.  Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who wrote the book the film is based on, also says Lincoln would be a Democrat. Some of the evidence:

[Lincoln] 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.

This is why leftists like Kushner and Kearns Goodwin embarrass themselves when they engage in such speculation.  They not only suggest their understanding of Lincoln is shaky, they show no understanding of today's Republican party.

In addition to being transparently partisan, the game they're playing is pointless.  It's easy enough to claim or disavow any historical figure.  I can show you how Hoover and Nixon were Democrats while FDR and JFK were Republicans without breaking a sweat.  The truth is the parties have changed tremendously over time, as have general political beliefs, so it's hard to compare then and now with any specificity.

For instance, today's Republicans, by Lincoln's standards, believe in a government that is almost unimaginably vast. (Please let's go back to the size of government in Lincoln's day--or even FDR's.) Meanwhile, the way Lincoln talked about religion he might be called a theocrat today, while Republican's views on race relations would make them radical leftists by the standards of just a few generations ago.

So basically the Kushner/Kearns Goodwin arguments breaks down to "Lincoln good. Democrat good.  Lincoln Democrat."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real argument is, "Publisher good."

Along with the necessary adjunct, "You shut up."

3:47 AM, November 18, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I could by modern cinema-attending -especially on opening weekends is nearly impossible- having a few multiplexes works when there are not blockbusters opening, then going to the movies becomes like going to the airport.

I think the larger argument here is that what separates people in different eras are fact and time specific- the idea that the world is separated into conservative rightist and liberal leftists is a rather recent phenom and one that may have run its course. In America, with the boomers retiring, there might be a greater old/young divide than any of the current disputes. We'll see.

11:55 AM, November 18, 2012  

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