What “Lincoln’ Can Teach Our Leaders

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a masterpiece. Among the many superb performances, editing, camera work, art direction, and dialogue resides important lessons for our elected officials.  I couldn’t help but feel this was Steven Spielberg’s way of punching our leaders in the face with the message, “This is how it’s done. Now get to work.”

Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team Of Rivalswe see Lincoln with a grand vision: end slavery once and for all by passing the 13th amendment.  In order to do so he must navigate the complexities of our democratic process. He must deal with an intransigent and hostile opposition party, ideologically driven activists, cynical manipulators, and an unruly cabinet of rivals; all while managing civil war.

In order to achieve his vision, Lincoln takes full advantage of every tactic available to him. He bribes Democrats with job offers. He delays peace talks with the Confederacy. He misleads congress. He strong-arms well meaning abolitionists into lying on the House floor. Were it not such a noble cause perhaps we would look on him as a corrupt power grabber, something his contemporaries often accused him of. David Brooks addresses this in his most recent column:

The movie portrays the nobility of politics in exactly the right way.

It shows that you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere. You can end slavery, open opportunity and fight poverty. But you can achieve these things only if you are willing to stain your own character in order to serve others – if you are willing to bamboozle, trim, compromise and be slippery and hypocritical.

The challenge of politics lies precisely in the marriage of high vision and low cunning. “Lincoln” gets this point. The hero has a high moral vision, but he also has the courage to take morally hazardous action in order to make that vision a reality.

I cannot recommend this film enough. It shows the ‘sausage making’ of our political process in all its glory. If you are wondering how things actually get done in Washington, this movie is for you.

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