While watching Spielberg’s new film, Lincoln, last weekend, I was immediately in awe at the amazing obstacles that went into the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, officially outlawing slavery and involuntary solitude. At a time when both the nation and congress were sharply divided, and when the passage of such an act was deemed to be impossible, it is a near miracle that a two-thirds majority in the House was attained. This achievement was only made possible however, through the incredible amount of leadership and mediation by Lincoln and his closest confidantes. Consequently, I then could not help but wonder if this type of working across the aisles could be possible today, achieving American citizens and politicians’ common goal for an effective government at this time when partisanship is as strong as it was during Lincoln’s era.
Despite some historical inaccuracies and a simplification of the passage behind the Thirteenth Amendment, the film gets the main historical facts and overall mood of the period correct– something which is very rare in the Hollywood movie industry. That being said, when Lincoln proposed to his secretary of State, William H. Seward, his plan to pass the Thirteenth Amendment (or the Slavery Amendment as it was called in those days) it is absolutely true that Seward thought his idea was insane and only possible if they had absolutely no defectors in their own republican party as well as a smaller yet significant number of democratic support as well. Miraculously, they achieved just that, with a vote of 119 to 56 through some great lobbying, compromising among factions, and Lincoln’s incredible leadership ability.
While partisanship is certainly not all bad, and in many cases, essential to survival of a healthy democracy, its recent all time higher rates have led to an ineffective and gridlocked government that fails to find a middle ground between parties. When looking at recent controversial acts passed in congress such as the Health Care Reform Act, which was passed only with democratic support, and the looming fiscal cliff, which is currently unresolved due to uncompromising partisan divide, it is evident that Lincoln’s ability to achieve bipartisanship, when necessary, is not the current case for today’s politics.
However, maybe as a collective public we can take a closer look at this film, and more importantly, the history behind it as in inspiration for productive bipartisanship. As Huffington Post’s Tom Butta accurately states, the time, which called for this leadership was very different then the political environment we live in today. He asserts that “the art of persuasion” was accordingly distinctive as well, “There were no 24-hour news channels to leak stories or run advertising. There were no national or global media forces to leverage as a platform to build a case.” In Lincoln’s day it was “Words [which] mattered most — words that were as compelling as the beliefs that formed them.” Perhaps we can take these important lessons of persuasion as well as the power of language and apply it to our own current political environment, furthering the democracy of this nation that relies not only the consent of the majority, but on the ultimate compromise of conflicting views as well.