Wednesday, December 12, 2012

'Lincoln': A House divided

Daniel Day-Lewis is Lincoln
As we crawl toward the infamous "fiscal cliff," it's a good thing we have "Lincoln" at the multi-plex. It lets Americans watch a painful debate over a truly consequential issue.

In "Lincoln," as the House debated passage of the 13th Amendment that outlawed slavery, the country was still at war in January 1865.

Flash forward to 2012, a year in which an African-American was re-elected president and when we're in year 11 of the war in Afghanistan, the greatest issue of our time is whether or not we can raise taxes on the rich from 35 percent to 39 percent to pay for that war and all the rest that we demand.


Compare our current Speaker (weeper) of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), with a real "radical Republican" in "Lincoln," Thaddeus Stevens (R-Penn.), who spent his life trying to abolish slavery.

Boehner is merely trying to reward his rich benefactors, like the Koch brothers, and to genuflect before the anti-tax god, Grover Norquist.

To say that our current, toxic political climate knows no precedent, is ridiculous.

In "Lincoln," Republicans argued with Democrats, most from border states next to the Confederacy, about the constitutional amendment to forever ban slavery in these United States. It seems like a no-brainer now, but there was a time when many legislators had no brains. Shocking? No.

Democrats, who supported the war effort against the rebellious southern states, could not stomach the idea that Negroes could eventually have the same rights as whites. What would be next? Extending voting privileges to women?

Yes, that sentiment was raised by a Democrat in "Lincoln."

And, yes, there will be moviegoers who will say, "Yeah, look at those Democrats. They haven't changed a bit. They're always trying to stop Republicans from doing what's necessary for the nation."

Well, for anyone with a pulse, today's Republicans are the mirror image of the Democrats in "Lincoln."

Dixiecrats, those folks in the Confederacy and sympathizers in neighboring states, were reliably Democratic until President Johnson signed civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.

"Northern" Democrats were finally willing to shed their racist brethren in the south, even if it meant losing a lot of elections in the short term.

Republicans were ecstatic to embrace the racists, who've been reliably Republican for a generation now.

Of course, the current GOP is willing to embrace anyone so long as they are white and male. Here's a story showing how that pathway leads to a dead end.

Anyway, the strength of "Lincoln," aside from Daniel Day-Lewis' award-winning performance, is that it reveals how racist this country was in 1865. Sadly, America is still divided by race as the recent election attests, though not as much as it was back then. There is some progress.

Also, "Lincoln" shows how horse-trading and cronyism were necessary to getting legislation passed, much as it is today.

Politics is a dirty business. However, when one party asserts total domination over the other, without any room for compromise, then civil disturbance will follow.

Republicans, emboldened by their Tea Party absolutists, believe that to compromise with President Obama or Democrats is like surrendering to terrorists.

As long as extreme Republicans believe that, then we will be a divided nation for quite some time.

And, as Lincoln said, a House divided against itself cannot stand.

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