Memo to President Barack Obama from your powerful friends in Hollywood: You are the president of the United States, clothed in immense power. Now use it. That, at least, seems to be the message of Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's surprisingly riveting examination of the 16th president's campaign to persuade that unruly collection of hicks, fanatics and thieves known as the House of Representatives to pass a Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. Lincoln's Republican party outnumbered their Democratic rivals, but Constitutional Amendments require a two-thirds majority. So the challenge was to keep the Republican caucus in line and pick off about 20 votes from the other side. And so the arm-twisting began. If that sounds familiar, it should. It's reasonable to think that this film couldn't and wouldn't have been made at any other time.
Using historical data, we can identify what experience is most important in hiring a new president. While there are no perfectly objective ways to measure presidential quality, it is fair to say that historians' estimates will certainly succeed at separating the George Washingtons from the Franklin Pierces.
They'll carefully review tapes of their own performances, as well as those of their opponents. But these presidential debates don't exist in a vacuum; they're part of a long chain stretching back (at least) to the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960. And over the past half century, candidates have landed some real zingers.