An Uncompromising President

Nov 28 2012 @ 3:06pm

Although he praises the film, Adam Gopnik finds one element of Lincoln misleading:

The movie is inspired by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s much and justly praised “Team Of Rivals.” But good books often cast strange shadows, and Goodwin’s account of Lincoln’s enormous instinctive shrewdness in managing his stroppy cabinet of prima donnas has been confused with the idea that Lincoln’s genius was for conciliation and compromise. This leads, in turn, to the notion that Lincoln was a kind of schmoozemeister, reaching out across the aisle, a sort of Tip O’Neill on the Atkins diet.

It can’t be said too often, or too clearly, that the whole point of Lincoln is that he—and the Republican Party he then represented—marked the end of the policy of conciliation and compromise and cosseting that had been the general approach of Northern Presidents to the Southern slavery problem throughout the decades before. When the South seceded, Lincoln chose war—an all-out, brutal, bitter war of a kind that had never been fought until then. “Let the erring sisters go in peace!” the editor Horace Greeley recommended, and Lincoln said, “Lock the doors and make them stay.”

Joe Klein's view:

I think Greg Sargent gets it a bit wrong when he writes that David Brooks, Al Hunt and other take the movie as a celebration of “compromise.” Lincoln doesn’t compromise his principles to win passage of the 13th Amendment. He compromises his morals, a little. He trades jobs for votes. He pulls a Clinton–lawyering the truth–over the question of whether he’s about to commence negotiations with a rebel delegation. That’s the miracle of Lincoln. He practiced the high art of moving history forward via patronage and patronization. Indeed, in a democracy, it is the highest art, the only way great deeds are done.