Friday, November 30, 2012

Lincoln and radicalism

When Lincoln sets about abolishing slavery–out of the goodness of his heart, essentially–his first adversaries turn out to be the radical abolitionists, in whose number the movie is careful not to place the great emancipator. Before anything can happen, in other words, the first order of business is to steamroll men of principle like Thaddeus Stevens and James Ashley into doing what Lincoln wants them to do. Stevens is too wildly idealistic and unrealistic to be allowed to speak his mind; he isn’t quite a caricature—if only because Tommie Lee Jones brings too much gravitas to the part—but he’s the uncle everyone is embarrassed of, even if they love him too much to say so. He’s not a leader, he’s a liability, one whose shining heroic moment will be when he keeps silent about what he really believes. And James Ashley is portrayed as too cowardly and weak to even bring the amendment to a vote (while casting David Costabile for the part speaks volumes for what kind of a role they think it is). The two radical abolitionists in the film, in other words, cannot be trusted to take charge of a radical project like the abolition of slaves. A radical and revolutionary change must be placed in the hands of a compromising moderate.
Lincoln Against the Radicals

Thursday, November 15, 2012

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