Special Report

Mr. Lincoln Goes to Hollywood

Steven Spielberg, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tony Kushner talk about what it takes to wrestle an epic presidency into a feature film

A still from Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg. (Photo: David James, SMPSP © 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved)
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That is the kind of purity we “bare, forked animals” can demand of political leaders today, assuming they’re good enough at it.

Of course, Lincoln got shot for it (I won’t spoil for you the movie’s masterstroke, its handling of the assassination), and with that erasure of Lincoln’s genuine adherence to “malice toward none,” Stevens and the other radical Republicans helped make Reconstruction as humiliating as possible for the white South. For instance, Kushner notes, a true-north Congress declined to give Southern burial societies any assistance in finding or identifying remains of the Confederate dead, thereby contributing to a swamp in which equality even before the law bogged down for a century, until nonviolent tricksters worthy of Lincoln provoked President Johnson, nearly as good a politician as Lincoln, to push through the civil rights acts of the 1960s.

How about the present? Goodwin points out that the 13th Amendment was passed during a post-election rump session of Congress, when a number of representatives, knowing they weren't coming back anyway, could be prevailed upon to vote their consciences. "We have a rump session coming up now," she observes.


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