What Can Obama Learn from “Lincoln?”
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the movie Lincoln opened as our country reels in a continuing crisis; but I believe there is an important message for our newly re-elected president. My wife Alexis and I saw the movie in a packed theater. As the son of a history teacher and a history major myself in college, I wondered how many in the audience understood the complexities that Lincoln faced as he tried to abolish slavery.
In his own party, the radical wing wanted Lincoln to punish the South after the war ended; the conservative wing did not want slavery abolished and threatened to side with the Democrats who were opposed to the abolition of slavery. Both factions warned that if Lincoln didn’t acquiesce and give them what they wanted, they wouldn’t support his Thirteenth amendment. We know historically that this political and moral debate about slavery was escalating long before Lincoln. Upon his election, the ugliness of what these politicians wrought behind the scenes exploded into the American landscape as the Civil War.
And as the annihilation of Americans by Americans raged on, a peace emissary of the confederate lost cause approached the nation’s capital. Prepared to negotiate the war’s end, the peaceniks, Lincoln knew, would demand that slavery, vital to the South’s economy, had to remain intact. How did Lincoln triumph in this climate where politics would decide if the killing of thousands every day would stop and if millions held in bondage would be freed? As the real Lincoln once said: “Be sure to put your feet in the right place. Then stand firm.” And then he used political maneuvering, brilliantly portrayed in the movie Lincoln. Is there a lesson here for President Obama as he confronts the looming fiscal cliff and the ferocious opposition of the 21stCentury Republican Party? Yes. You’re in the right place, President Obama…now stand firm…and maneuver politically.