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Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’: Flawed but worthwhile Oscar bait

Film review

FILE - This undated publicity photo released by DreamWorks and Twentieth Century Fox shows, Daniel Day-Lewis, center rear, as Abraham Lincoln, in a scene from the film, "Lincoln."  Day-Lewis, who plays the 16th president in Steven Spielberg's epic film biography “Lincoln,” settled on a higher, softer voice, saying it's more true to descriptions of how the man actually spoke. “Lincoln” opened in limited release Nov. 9, 2012, and expands nationwide Friday, Nov. 16. (AP Photo/DreamWorks, Twentieth Century Fox, David James, File)

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln talks strategy in regards to passing the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in Steven Spielberg’s fairly wonky and occasionally sappy but worthwhile “Lincoln.”

Steven Spielberg’s grand, sweeping, gimme-some-Oscars-already epic “Lincoln” starts with a schmaltzy scene and ends with a rather yawn-inducing, anti-climactic one, but between these two disappointing bookends is a film that’s worth watching despite its flaws.

Even though history no doubt has sainted him, or at least sanitized him, Abraham Lincoln probably was our most important president, and Spielberg’s and playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s Lincoln steps off of the pedestal now and then to get his hands dirty in the business of politics, and even utters the word “shit.”

Mostly, though, Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln delivers biblical-sounding language that, I surmise, your typical American moviegoer (who has some degree of poverty of language) often won’t even bother to try to comprehend.

Still, the anecdotes and parables that Day-Lewis’ Lincoln frequently tells, even during times of high crisis, are spellbinding, and Day-Lewis (whose win for Best Actor virtually is assured) nails it perhaps especially in these scenes.

Sally Field does a competent enough if not wholly convincing job as Mary Todd Lincoln, whose speech, strangely, sounds like today’s modern American English while her husband’s speech sounds literary.

I didn’t find the back-and-forth, woe-is-me dynamic of a misery competition between Mary Todd and her husband to be very interesting or insightful, but to be mostly repetitive, but the scene in which Field’s Mary Todd lets some congressmen who are visiting her home (the White House, of course) know who’s boss is one the film’s best and most memorable scenes.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt — who, as I have noted, I love — is a bit dull and therefore wasted as Robert Todd Lincoln, Mary Todd’s and Abraham’s eldest son, who comes off as a one-trick pony, primarily only whining about how much he wants to join the army and fight for the North.

Tommy Lee Jones steals the show as U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, portrayed as a “radical,” fervent abolitionist. (The last, pleasantly surprising scene with Jones in the privacy of his home probably should have been the last scene of the film.)

The floor fights in the U.S. House of Representatives over the proposed passage of the Thirteen Amendment (prohibiting slavery everywhere in the nation) provide most of the film’s drama, and if they are at all historically accurate, they make one long for the days when there was a lot more passion (and a lot less money to both parties from the same donors) in the House.

The Southerners (and their sympathizers) in “Lincoln” aren’t portrayed flatteringly, which probably will mean that the film won’t appeal to the “tea-party” dipshits, since the slavery- and treason-loving Southerners depicted in “Lincoln” are their true founding fathers, but perhaps “Lincoln’s” No. 1 flaw is the creepy feeling that one gets while watching it that the overriding spirit of the film is a bunch of whites repeatedly patting themselves on the back, repeatedly reminding us, “See!?!? We ended slavery!”

Indeed, the evil of slavery itself is barely portrayed in “Lincoln” — sure, Spielberg portrayed it in his 1997 film “Amistad,” but that’s a different film — and blacks are only supporting (and mostly subservient) characters in “Lincoln,” which gives the viewer of “Lincoln” the unfortunate impression that perhaps the film is asserting that slavery was more of a burden for liberal whites than it was for the actual slaves.

Unless Spielberg and Kushner meant that to be a commentary on today’s Democratic Party and its relationship to the suffering masses of today — and I don’t think that they did — that is, in my book, enough of a flaw in “Lincoln” (coupled with its dismal opening and closing scenes) to knock it outside of the realm of an “A.”

I had hoped that Spielberg’s “Lincoln” would be “War Horse” meets Abraham Lincoln — I thought (and still think) that Spielberg’s 2011 film “War Horse” got screwed at the Oscars — but alas, it was not to be.

The Academy of  Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which is chock full o’ guilty white liberals), however, most likely handsomely will reward “Lincoln” nonetheless.

My grade: B+

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Burn your race cards, Obamabots!

Gee, I guess that I’m a big fucking racist for expecting more of Melissa Harris-Perry than her race-baiting article in The Nation.

All kinds of excuses have been put out there to cover for Barack Obama’s lackluster presidency:

He inherited a huge fucking stinking, steaming mess from the unelected Bush regime. The Repugnican Tea Party traitors in Congress have been fighting him tooth and nail, have been doing everything in their power to ensure that he is a one-term president, regardless of the damage that this is causing the nation.

These excuses are legitimate enough. Obama did inherit a huge fucking stinking, steaming mess. The Repugnican Tea Party traitors have done all that they can to cripple him.

But Obama won’t win re-election on excuses. I know of no president who ever won re-election based not upon his actual accomplishments while in office, but upon his making even a strong case that others were responsible for his lack of accomplishments.

And although he’s not responsible for what he inherited, the fact of the matter is that when the iron was red hot, Obama didn’t strike. While he should have come in with guns a-blazin’, Obama instead has used a drinking straw and spitballs. Timidly.

The result is that although he had both houses of Congress in his party’s control for all of 2009 and 2010, and when he had the nation’s good will for most of that time, Obama did diddly squat. Oh, he achieved health care “reform” — “reform” that the health care weasels gave their blessing to and “reform” that isn’t scheduled to kick in until 2014, for fuck’s sake.

Obama is guilty of having squandered spectacularly what probably will turn out to have been his one and only shot at making a big difference. He had his big opportunity and he blew it. Forever.

But no. The problem actually is that white liberals are actually racist.

That is the poisonous talking point that Nation writer and MSNBC talent Melissa Harris-Perry has injected into the national conversation. The title of her Nation piece pretty much says it all: “Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama.”

My God. (And I don’t even believe in God.)

Um, for starters, we white liberals didn’t abandon Obama. Obama abandoned us. Or, perhaps more accurately, he punk’d us from the very beginning, telling us what he’d figured we wanted to hear in order to get our money and our votes.

The main idea of Harris-Perry’s piece is that white liberals have been harder on Obama than they ever were on Bill Clinton because Obama is black and whites generally are harder on blacks than they are on other whites, that whites expect more of blacks than they do their fellow whites.

Certainly that phenomenon can manifest itself in some situations. Certainly racism continues in the United States of America, not only against blacks but also “illegals” and other racial minority groups. Certainly there is no “level playing field” in the United States. Blacks, kept down for generations, never had the wealth or other privilege to hand down from generation to generation, like many whites did, so the “level playing field” argument is bullshit.

Of course the majority of the “tea party” fascists are white supremacists and racists whose gatherings look and feel like KKK rallies. I agree 200 percent with Morgan Freeman on this. I’ve written about it many times.

But to pull out the race card on your allies?

Really?

So basically, to the race-card-carrying Obamabots, Barack Obama is beyond reproach. Anyone who has any problem with him must be racist. There can be no other possible explanation.

This is convenient for Obama and his Obamabots, of course. The race card in this case would serve as a perpetual get-out-of-jail-free card for Obama. He would out-Teflon right-wing icon Ronald Reagan, whose praises Obama can’t sing loudly or frequently enough. (You never heard George W. Bush worshipping a Democratic president, did you?)

Or maybe instead of calling it the race card, we should call it the race mace — you know, you hit someone over the head with a mace.

Anyone who even thinks of being critical of Obama will keep his or her mouth shut, lest he or she be clobbered publicly with the race mace.

You know, this is, in spirit, thuggery. This is, in spirit, terrorism (which I define, broadly, as the use of intimidation on others in order to get one’s own way). Oh, and it’s slanderous or libelous, too. It’s not much different, in spirit, from the right wing’s calling someone a Communist in the 1950s in order to silence him or her. Defamation is fun!

But the race mace doesn’t work on this white liberal.

As someone who has had black boyfriends, charges by people who don’t know me that I’m a racist fall off of me like water falls off of a duck’s ass. And as someone who gave Barack Obama hundreds of dollars and my vote in 2008 — not because I’m a guilty white liberal but because I truly believed that he was the best viable candidate — I really don’t need some race-mace-carrying terrorist calling me a “racist.”

Why did I give Obama hundreds of dollars and my vote? Well, most if not all of the money that I gave him for the 2008 cycle I gave to him during the drawn-out 2008 Democratic primary contest. Why? Because I wanted him, not Billary Clinton, to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee.

Why?

Because I’d figured that a Billary Clinton presidency would be just like the first Clinton presidency. I didn’t want another sell-out, triangulating Democrat in name only in the White House. I wanted a progressive in the White House.

And although Obama and the Obamabots deny it now, Obama did offer himself up as the anti-Billary, as the true progressive in the race. “Hope” and “change” are about progressivismnot about maintaining the status quo or speaking softly and carrying a tiny twig.

Now, however, in Obama’s third year, many have speculated that he has governed even further to the right than Billary would have governed had she become president. Many have speculated that a President Billary would have smacked down the Repugnican Tea Party traitors in Congress, unlike the balls-less Obama, who stupidly only spoke about singing kumbaya with the Repugnican Tea Party traitors while their supporters portrayed him as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose, as a chimpanzee or a monkey, as a cultivator of watermelons on the White House lawn, etc. These aren’t people you try to play nice with. These are people you take down.

Comparing Bill Clinton’s presidency to Obama’s presidency is comparing apples to asparagus. I don’t need to go into the details of that — writers David Sirota and Joan Walsh (both “racist” white liberals, don’t you know) did a pretty good idea of deconstructing Harris-Perry’s bullshit thesis, and so I don’t need to do that here, but mostly, the economic times of the two presidencies are so different that it renders the comparison of the two fairly pointless.

Obama is not being judged by white liberals based upon the color of his skin, but based upon the content of his character. His character defects include his unwillingness to fight for those who put him where he is with our money, our time and energy, and our votes; his breaking one campaign promise after another; and his habit of throwing his former supporters under the bus when he finds it politically expedient to do so.

He threw the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod, all of them, under the bus. As soon as the white supremacist fascists on the right started to attack these individuals, Obama just dropped them like flaming dog shit. That alone speaks volumes about his character. (To be fair and balanced, when Bill Clinton very similarly threw former surgeon general Jocelyn Elders under the bus, that was a travesty of justice, too. And again, I’d supported Obama over Billary to prevent that kind of thing from happening again. And speaking of the Rev. Wright, you really should read his recent interview with Chris Hedges. Wowser.)

The fact of the matter is that whether they like it or not, blacks need the support of us white liberals. Blacks can’t afford to alienate us en masse. They just can’t. Politics is a blood sport — not a kumbaya marathon — and you need as many players on your side as you can get.

(We gay people, too, can’t do it on our own. We need the support of heterosexuals. It would be incredibly fucking stupid of us to alienate those liberals who support us by claiming that in actuality they are
homophobes.)

What I’m saying is: Burn your race cards, Obamabots.

The president of the United States of America, whoever that is at the time, must be open to criticism from the left and from the right. No president or other leader should be exempt from criticism because of his or her gender, race or sexual orientation.

A leader should be judged for such things as his or her accomplishments — or lack thereof — and for his or her character. On these measures, white liberals (and black liberals and other liberals) have not judged Barack Obama unfairly.

To give Obama a break because he is black is as racist as is expecting him to outperform his white cohorts, although since there can be only one U.S. president at a time, and as every presidency is different because times change, Obama doesn’t have any true cohorts, and certainly not Bill Clinton, whom he at least tacitly promised us he wouldn’t be.

To support Obama primarily because he is black is as racist as opposing him primarily because he is black.

Ironically, those who so casually try to pin the slanderous or libelous label of “racist” on white liberals who dare to criticize the nation’s first black president are racist themselves.

I still love Melissa Harris-Perry, though. I’ve seen her on MSNBC and I like her.

Her Nation article and the shit that she has stirred up, though — not so much.

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