bureaucracybusters

LESSONS FROM “LINCOLN”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 21, 2015 at 1:12 am

Argo won for Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony. But, in the long run, it will be Lincoln who is deservingly remembered–and loved.

Argo focuses on a humiliating episode that most Americans would like to forget.  On November 4, 1979, at the climax of the Iranian revolution, militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage.

But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans managed to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing it was only a matter of time before the six were found and likely killed, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist offered a risky–and ultimately successful–plan to smuggle them out of the country.

While Argo wrings cheers from American audiences for the winning of this small victory, it cannot erase the blunt truth of the Iranian hostage crisis: For more than 14 months, American diplomats waited helplessly for release–while America proved unable to effect it.

By contrast, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln celebrates a far greater victory: the final defeat of human slavery in the United States.

And it teaches lessons about the past that remain equally valide today–such as that racism and repression are not confined to any one period or political party.

At the heart of the film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. An amendment that will forever ban slavery.

True, Lincoln, in 1862, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This-–in theory-–freed slaves held in the Confederate states that were in rebellion against the United States Government.

But Lincoln regards this as a temporary wartime measure.

He fears that, once the war is over, the Supreme Court may rule the Proclamation unconstitutional. This might allow Southerners to continue practicing slavery, even after losing the war.

To prevent this, Congress must pass an anti-slavery amendment.

But winning Congressional passage of such an amendment won’t be easy.

The Senate had ratified its passage in 1864. But the amendment must secure approval from the House of Representatives to become law.

And the House is filled with men-–there are no women members during the 19th  century-–who seethe with hostility.

Some are hostile to Lincoln personally. One of them dubs him a dictator-–”Abraham Africanus.” Another accuses him of shifting his positions for the sake of expediency.

Other members–-white men all-–are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.”

To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage–especially marriage between black men and white women. Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks-–or women–-the right to vote.

Black soldiers in the Union Army

To understand the Congressional debate over the Thirteenth Amendment, it’s necessary to remember this: In Lincoln’s time, the Republicans were the party of progressives.

The party was founded on an anti-slavery platform.  Its members were thus reviled as “Black Republicans.”

And until the 1960s, the South was solidly DemocraticDemocrats were the ones defending the status quo–slavery–and opposing freed blacks in the South of Reconstruction and long afterward.

In short, in the 18th century, Democrats in the South acted as Republicans do now.

The South went Republican only after a Democratic President–Lyndon B. Johnson–rammed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

Watching this re-enactment of the 1865 debate in Lincoln is like watching a rerun of the 2012 Presidential campaign.  The same mentalities are at work:

  • Those (in this case, slave-owners) who already have a great deal want to gain even more at the expense of others.
  • Those (slaves and freed blacks) who have little strive to gain more or at least hang onto what they still have.
  • Those who defend the privileged wealthy refuse to allow their “social inferiors” to enjoy similar privileges (such as the right to vote).

During the 2012 Presidential race, the Republicans tried to bar those likely to vote for President Barack Obama from getting into the voting booth.  But their bogus “voter ID” restrictions were struck down in courts across the nation.

In the end, however, it is Abraham Lincoln who has the final word.  Through diplomacy and backroom dealings (trading political offices for votes) he wins passage of the anti-slavery amendment.

The movie closes with a historically-correct tribute to Lincoln’s generosity toward those who opposed him–in Congress and on the battlefield.

It occurs during Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all….To bind up the nation’s wounds.  To care for him who shall have bourne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan….”

Listening to those words, one is reminded of Mitt Romney’s infamous comments about the “47%: “

Well, there are 47% of the people who…are dependent upon government, who believe that–-that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Watching Lincoln, you realize how incredibly lucky we were as a nation to have had such leadership when it was most needed.

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