“Lincoln” on political leadership

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.

3 responses

  1. Dear David,

    A very interesting topic! I wonder how Obama would fit into the book that I think you featured some time ago called “A First Rate Madness” by Nassir Ghaemi.

    While he may not have any mental disease, my guess is that he has had much loss and difficulty in his life that informs his leadership, some that he has talked about, and some that he may not have discussed. It is apparent that his mother’s struggle with cancer and needing to fight for services at the same time she was fighting for her life certainly influenced his courageous fight for health care for all in this country. He had the courage to make a decison to go after Bin Laden when advisors did not encourage him.

    He has weathered some incredible false pictures that the right has tried to paint him in and stood up again and gone on. This is not easy for any leader to do. I agree with your three, and believe he has it in him to be one of our greatest presidents!

  2. Thank you, David, for sharing the topic.

    Personally I do think that it would benefit President Obama, as well as enhance the citizenry’s confidence in him, if he would simply highlight all of the ground breaking work that he is doing behind the scenes, so that we can more concretely and more effectively understand and appreciate the foundation he is attempting to build that can make the U. S. more self-sustaining, that can provide clarity as it pertains to the U.S.’s peacekeeping and conflict resolving role in the global arena, as well as how he is supporting the development of new technology that can enhance the movement towards more eco-friendly practices and the careers that support those measures.

    I do perceive the President as being a rather humble individual who is not prone to expressing his efforts and achievements. However, because our nation is in such a fragile state on so many levels, we really do need to hear from him more often detailing his visions, his problem-solving efforts, and his successes at breaking ground on some of the work he has already set in motion..

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