With the arrival of “Lincoln” in movie theaters across the country this month, Americans will get a fresh reminder of the unique leadership abilities of the nation’s 16th president.
The brainchild of filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who drew upon historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” for inspiration, “Lincoln” evokes the legendary chief executive’s eloquence and intellect, but the film also touches upon a less-celebrated aspect of Lincoln’s character. Although he’s revered today for his above-the-fray nobility, Lincoln could also excel at the messier aspects of political calculation — the art of the possible that, in Washington, D.C., so often falls short of the ideal.
Lincoln’s willingness to accept less-than-perfect political deals is “something that I wish more people would take to heart — people I talk with about politics, especially people I agree with,” writer Roy Blount Jr. said of the movie. “Today, as in 1865, people tend to be sure they are right, and maybe they are. ... What people don’t always want to take on board is that people who disagree with them may be just as resolutely sure they are right. That’s one reason the road to progress, or regression, in a democracy is seldom straight, entirely open or, strictly speaking, democratic. If Lincoln’s truth is marching on, it should inspire people to acknowledge that doing right is a tricky proposition.”
Blount’s remarks, published in a recent edition of Smithsonian magazine, have obvious resonance in today’s political climate in Washington, where newly re-elected President Barack Obama and GOP lawmakers must reach a deal by year’s end to avoid huge cuts in the federal budget.
Here’s hoping that both sides acknowledge that progress often involves uncomfortable compromises.
It was true in Lincoln’s day, and remains just as true today.