The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
by Connor Kilpatrick
Whatever Spielberg says — there’s no comparing an empty-suit like Obama to a radical like Lincoln.
I thought about writing a critique of Aaron Bady’s mostly very good review of Lincoln for a long time this morning. It was a tough call: I do have some enamel left on my teeth and I can think of nothing else that could threaten to grind it all down to dust than publicly saying anything —anything at all — that could be construed as a defense of either Steven Spielberg’s politics or Barack Obama.
So I don’t want to defend the movie, which I thought was fine for what it was. Actually, by the standards of Hollywood history flicks, I thought it was more than fine.
Bady’s right to call out Kushner and Spielberg as card-carrying Obamaphiles. And it’s more than clear, particularly through interviews, that Kushner and Spielberg want us to connect the dots they’ve carefully laid out between Abe and Barack. Obama himself has done everything possible to encourage the comparison—even being sworn into office on Lincoln’s very own bible.
In their shared liberal revisionism, the Thirteenth Amendment becomes ObamaCare. The Emancipation Proclamation becomes a return to the marginal tax rates of the Clinton era. Thaddeus Stevens morphs into a fantasy of Bernie Sanders “doing the right thing” and sitting down with the prez to cut healthcare for the poor and elderly.
It’s laughable. But instead of calling them out, too many leftists concede this characterization of Lincoln and the Republicans to the Obamaphiles. They seem to believe that the first crop of Republicans did little more than press an official rubber stamp on “history from below” which had already delivered its verdict across the land.
The argument seems to be: “Spielberg says Lincoln and Obama are rubber-stampers. They are. But he’s wrong when he says that such men are the true makers of history.” Then they go looking elsewhere for the real revolutionaries, who can’t possibly have anything to do with these mere ‘stampers.
The question is why are we letting Spielberg, Kushner, and Obama get away with this?
Abraham Lincoln and the early Republicans (to say nothing of the Liberty Party or Free Soilers before them) shared a vision of a radically different society. Wiping out slavery — either through immediate abolition or through the “cordon of freedom” policy of the Republican Party — was hardly a technocratic reform.
And when it became clear that the only way to get there would be through revolutionary means, they took it without flinching: slaves were being emancipated as “contraband” by the summer of 1861, with the first Confiscation Act — written and debated in Congress explicitly as an emancipation act — signed into law that August, less than four months after the start of the war. The endgame of military emancipation had long been on the minds of antislavery politicians, all the way back to John Quincy Adams who first laid out such a scenario in 1836.
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