The movie “Lincoln” is getting so many kudos right now that I’m a little embarrassed to jump on the bandwagon. But I can’t help myself: This is a fascinating historical piece and a dramatic civics lesson built around America’s 16th President and the legislative battle to ratify the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg, provides us with what may be the definitive screen portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Although media accounts tell us that Spielberg — not wanting the movie to be interpreted as an overt political statement — intentionally withheld release of the movie until after the election, it is hard not to watch Day-Lewis and to wonder how Mr. Lincoln would do as President today.
Indeed, while “Lincoln” is a great film standing on its own, it also is a modern-day telegram to the current American President — and I’m sure that Barack Obama was always Spielberg’s desired recipient. President Obama is said to be enamored of Mr. Lincoln. However, during his first term, Mr. Obama all too often resembled George B. McClellan, the superbly organized but overly cautious Union general who frustrated Lincoln to no end and ran against him for President in 1864.
The takeaways of “Lincoln” to the President? I can think of at least three: Fight smart and bold, seize the moment when it presents itself, and get your hands dirty with the grime of politics when necessary.
Unlike our current chief executive, Mr. Lincoln had little formal education. And yet, beneath his outward folksiness, Lincoln was one of our most cerebral Presidents, having absorbed the likes of The Bible, Shakespeare, Euclid, and Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. He blended with his intellect a feel for people and a willingness to throw himself into the bloody war of politics.
President Obama has wowed many with his intellect, but he needs to do much more. He must translate that eloquence and intelligence into strong leadership. America and the world are still reeling from the economic downturn, the effects of climate change appear to be previewing even scarier things to come, and international armed conflicts abound. If the President needs a role model, he would do well to emulate his hero.