The following appeared December 3 on The Catholic Thing website.
The more I think about Lincoln – great as it is thanks to Spielberg and the film’s stars, especially Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role – the more I worry.
Now there is often a political agenda hiding in the skirts of what ever sashays out of Hollywood, and there’s one here. The screenwriter attached to Lincoln is Tony Kushner, leftist author of Angels in America, a Pulitzer-winning play that bears the subtitle: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.
A couple of years back there was a flapdoodle over assertions by some that the Great Emancipator was a closeted homosexual, and I was worried before I saw Lincoln that some “queer theory” might seep in – to soil it and spoil it. That’s not the case.
There is, however, a more sinister message at the heart of the film, namely L’etat c’est moi. And I’m going to walk to the end of the limb here and start sawing: the Lincoln screenplay, if not the film itself, is a mash note to the president, and I don’t mean Abraham Lincoln. According to the film, hope is kindled and change realized only when visionaries do the right thing, regardless of cultural or legal barriers.
Mr. Kushner’s script is taken in part from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, although the film depicts just the last four months of Lincoln’s presidency and life. Scenes, each no doubt with a basis in history, have been gerrymandered to emphasize a key point: the “people” aren’t to be trusted. Most Americans are brutes, in this case, dyed-in-the-wool racists, and a progressive leader must leapfrog democracy in order to achieve what only enlightened people recognize is just. Examples:
Secretary of State William Seward grills Midwestern visitors about the proposed Thirteenth Amendment (the driving force in the film: Lincoln’s determination to weld the Emancipation Proclamation to the Constitution). The good folks are in favor of it if it will help end the Civil War. And if the war ends before the Amendment passes in the House? Opposed. Why? The man says: “Niggers.”
Representative Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the radical abolitionists, speaks with vehemence about his contempt for democracy and “the people.” They elected him, but he owes them nothing.
The president tells the story of once representing a woman, a victim of what we now call domestic violence, who killed her husband, but whose murder case the young attorney knew he couldn’t win. So he let his client climb out a first-floor courtroom window and escape to freedom.
And when the president speaks about the suspension of habeas corpus and of the war-powers reasoning behind the Emancipation Proclamation, he admits he is unsure of the actual legality – doubts it in fact – but believes he was right to circumvent the law.
And that’s what just about everybody urges Mr. Lincoln to realize: you can’t wait for the knuckle-draggers to catch up; you can’t adhere to laws that impede progress.
Lincoln agrees. Thomas More he is not
But are Messrs. Spielberg and Kushner sending a message to Barack Obama about ignoring pesky laws in order to promote progressive causes (same-sex marriage, perhaps)? Well, based on interviews he has given, I’d say Mr. Kushner is. (He “married” another man in Massachusetts in 2008.) And given Mr. Spielberg’s command of his medium, it’s hard to imagine any screenwriter slipping in such emphases without the director’s approval.
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