We enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with family near Phoenix last week, as well as a visit with more family in Las Vegas just before that. This was our third drive to the great Southwest in a little more than two years, prompting our newfound resolve to fly next time. That said, I'm always intrigued by the water war signage along I-5 and the stark beauty of large stretches of I-10.
Last Saturday, after Ohio State had beaten Michigan and Northwestern had bested Illinois, we were at the movies to watch Lincoln. As advertised, Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing in his characterization of our 16th President. Go see it as soon as you can.
The film focuses on Lincoln's fierce effort to pass the 13th Amendment, banning slavery, at the beginning of 1865. The bloody Civil War is concluding and the Union is winning. But if it concludes with slavery still allowed in the South, though, Lincoln knows that slavery will not end for a long time to come. So he moves quickly to bring the 13th Amendment, which had already passed the Senate the year before, to the House floor. Whereas the Emancipation Proclamation was actually a military ploy to get freed slaves in border states into the Union army, this is the real deal.
To get there Lincoln cajoles his reluctant Cabinet to support him. He allows skullduggery and horse-trading in exchange for Congressional votes, and even visits the rapscallions who are lining up those votes. Apropos of nothing he tells charming stories. He argues fiercely with Mrs. Lincoln about whether their son Robert should be allowed to fight for the Union. He retreats into himself repeatedly, only to emerge with great lucidity when a decisive moment is at hand.
He wins passage of the 13th Amendment on Jan. 31, 1865 and secures peace at Appomattox a few months later. He is killed in April of that same year.
Many commentators, such as an anoymous scribe in The Economist, have noted the parallels between Lincoln (here at the start of his second term) and our own President Obama (who is about to begin his own new term.) President Obama needs to master the cold arts of presidential leadership just as well as Lincoln did, if he wants to secure a commensurate legacy. Our idealists must accept and even embrace their Machavellian selves. It's never easy, as Lincoln attests. But then and now the ends justify the means.
NB: Obama has a Secret Service to prevent assassination, unlike Lincoln. The Secret Service was created months after Lincoln's death.