Steven Spielberg's Lincoln opens in wide release today, after a limited release last Friday -- and with luck, Barack Obama will not only see it but take it as a template for the current lame-duck session of Congress and for his impending second term.
I'm not the first to point out that, at this moment in time, despite right-wing naysayers decrying the lack of a mandate in the election results, Obama has the momentum. He's got the upper hand -- or simply, "hand," as they once proclaimed on Seinfeld -- with the election results as a reminder that, in fact, he IS the one that the majority of Americans want running the show -- and not the obstructionist Republicans who have been an impediment since the day he took office in 2009.
And Lincoln should be his template for moving forward.
Tony Kushner's script focuses on the month of January, 1865. Lincoln has easily won a second term, despite the ongoing Civil War. But he's got a month until his second inauguration -- a month before the Congressional Democrat states'-rights crowd who lost their own reelection bids must slink back home and look for new work.
Abolition, at that point, was a Republican issue (unike today, when Republicans are the home of Tea Party racists and vote suppression). Democrats fought the idea of abolishing slavery. Lincoln had convinced the U.S. Senate to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, outlawing slavery. But it had been clogged up in the House of Representatives, which was too evenly split for the two-thirds majority it needed for passage.
So Lincoln made it his goal to pass the amendment in January, twisting the arms of outgoing Democrats, offering patronage jobs and doing whatever else it took to pass the amendment before accepting the South's surrender. It was a canny piece of political negotiation, one that used the office and his Republican majority to ram through necessary change: "I am the president of the United States, clothed in immense power -- now bring me those votes," he finally thunders at his shilly-shallying cabinet.
That's been the case with every important piece of legislation that's ever been passed in this country: Someone had the vision and the courage -- nay, the balls -- to force it through, in the face of partisan obstinacy and reactionary resistance. From civil rights to female suffrage to the freedom of choice to marital equality -- someone took a stand and refused to back down. (And yes, I know, it took the U.S. Supreme Court to pass Roe v. Wade, not Congress.)
Of course there was opposition - and of course that opposition was aggrieved and would tell you that all of these changes came at the expense of something else. I refer you to the analogy of omelettes and eggs.
Now is Obama's moment to start breaking some eggs. He spent the first two years of his first term -- when he had the super-majority he needed -- trying to play nice with bullies whose idea of compromise was, well, their way or the highway. As Indiana's joke of a Republican Senate candidate, Richard Mourdock, said earlier this year, after winning a primary (before making his notorious comments about rape and abortion that gave a once-Republican seat to Democrats), "I hope to build a conservative majority in the U.S. Senate so bipartisanship becomes Democrats joining Republicans to roll back the size of government."
And, frankly, Obama and the wishy-washy Democrats squandered that first two years, when he had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and controlled the House, trying to find common ground with people who wanted all the ground for themselves. Then he spent two years playing defense against a rambunctious, obnoxious group of Tea Party loonies, most of whom have now been sent packing. The election results were analogous to a sorority girl waking up from a tequila bender to discover the hunk she'd hooked up with the night before actually looked like Randy Quaid, not Dennis.
Obama now has four more years -- just as Lincoln seemed to have in January, 1865. Why waste time? Offer the hand of conciliation - and if he gets the same response from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and their hypocritical ilk, then bring down the hammer.
Do it on taxes on the rich. Do it on climate-change policy. Do it on drug policy (really -- how hard is it to move marijuana from a Schedule I drug to something that's regulated, like Oxycontin?). Do it on every issue that you were elected to change, update and otherwise innovate in 2008.
As Gerald Ford said in 1974, our long national nightmare is over. Screen Lincoln at the White House, Mr. President -- indeed, make it a mandatory screening for the entire Congress. And then take the whip in hand and get to work.
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