Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, probably wouldn’t win the Republican nomination for president if he ran today, if the film”Lincoln” is any indication. Knowing director Steven Spielberg, writer Tony Kuchner and lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis, it was probably as historically accurate as a film can get. In fact, Lincoln probably wouldn’t survive the first few primaries of the Republican nomination process. The reason? He just wasn’t conservative enough.
As seen in “Lincoln,” there were two major Republican factions in the 1860s — the radicals and the conservatives, akin to the modern day Tea Party and moderate, Mitt Romney Republicans, respectively. However, in the 1860s, the Republicans were the liberal party, the one pushing the country toward progressive ideas. The Republicans were the ones who wanted to abolish slavery, and Lincoln, straddling the line between moderate and radical, wholeheartedly agreed. However, he never made slavery — a moral and social issue to the Republicans — a fixture of his campaign. In modern-day America, a Republican cannot win the support of the staunchly conservative base without straying so far to the right as to make him unrecognizable to centrists.
Furthermore, Lincoln believed in the wacky idea of compromise, of working with people with differing beliefs and political parties to achieve a mutual goal. Day-Lewis’s Lincoln even says in the movie he wanted the Thirteenth Amendment to have bipartisan support. Does the conservative faction of the Republican Party want to compromise? They hold any possible debt deal hostage with a series of unnecessary expenditures and tax cuts, which economists and the U.S. Department of Defense have said could be dangerous. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even said the goal of Republicans in 2010 should not be to fix the country, but to ensure that President Barack Obama only served one term. That doesn’t seem conciliatory to me.
Lincoln would’ve been eviscerated by his own party for working with Democrats, however subtly, to achieve his goal. That’s not how the modern conservative behaves. That’s not how the modern liberal tends to behave, although the liberals are less forthright about their unwillingness to work across the aisle. Conservatives don’t even attempt to hide their disdain for their liberal counterparts.
The most telling sign of the shift of the Republican Party was in a speech Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones) gave in the film before the House of Representatives. He sacrificed his personal beliefs in order to better the nation; the sacrifice of the few to benefit the many. He made that sacrifice. Lincoln made that sacrifice. Republicans have been more dependent on playing up their personal moral beliefs, rather than seeing the bigger picture and how personal sacrifices could help the nation as a whole — see: Todd Akin/Richard Mourdock on rape and Marco Rubio on creationism.
Republicans, see how you’ve changed! So much so that you wouldn’t elect the greatest president to ever come from your party. Republicans and Democrats can both learn from “Lincoln.” The American Dream isn’t just white picket fences, minivans and suburban schools. The American Dream is the idea that any man can save the world with democracy, and that democracy, despite its flaws, can be a beautiful thing when it works properly. It was a beautiful thing during the time of Lincoln. It will be a beautiful thing again. We all just need to change.
Nirbhay Jain is an LSA junior.