Which upcoming Abraham Lincoln movie will be more inaccurate: the one that depicts the 16th president as a vampire hunter, or Steven Spielberg’s liberal claptrap? It’s hard to say. Spielberg just started shooting in October, and the film won’t be released until next Christmas. But the screenwriter is Tony Kushner, which means you’d do well to stay away. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” will most likely have more truth in it.
The problem is not that Kushner, the Pulitzer Prizing-winning author of “Angels in America” and co-writer of the movie “Munich,” is a left-wing gay radical. It’s that he is an angry left-wing gay radical. And that makes all the difference in the world. Gore Vidal, who is gay but not as angry as Kushner, wrote a great novel about Lincoln. They should have used that as source material and kept Kushner at a safe distance. It’s not even necessarily a partisan issue; having Kushner take on the 16th president is like having Sean Hannity do a screenplay about Reagan. In both cases it would be about 80 percent self-righteous bile and 20 percent art.
For a preview of what we might be in for with Spielberg’s Lincoln, it’s useful to consult this New York magazine article from March 2008. “[Rolling Stone founder] Jann Wenner isn’t the only one who finds Barack Obama Lincolnesque in his own origins, his sobriety and what history now demands,” it begins. “Tony Kushner is working on a screenplay for Steven Spielberg based on ‘Team of Rivals,’ Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Lincoln’s last two years as president before he was assassinated. Kushner gushed about Lincoln’s ability to ‘bring people together.’”
But, of course, there are some who are simple beyond the reach of even Saint Abe. Namely, today’s Republicans. New York asked Kushner whether he thought Lincoln — “that original Log Cabin Republican” — would be a Republican today. “Absolutely not,” said Kushner. “He was a deeply progressive man and a deep believer in the Constitution. Any party that could make George Bush, who has raped the Constitution, is not one that Abe Lincoln would want anything to do with.” And if he were alive today, Honest Abe would be all about Obama: “They’re both from Illinois. You can really trace a line from the politics of Lincoln through American pragmatism to the politics of Barack Obama.” If that’s not enough, Kushner informs us that Lincoln was most likely gay. “I’m struggling with that question while I’m writing it. The historical record is very cloudy. There’s possibly some evidence he was bisexual at least.”
So Abraham Lincoln, who violated habeas corpus, was a deep believer in the Constitution. Yet even if you defend Lincoln’s actions in the Civil War, which I do, it can only lead you to think that Lincoln today could not be anything other than a conservative. His entire philosophy about the Civil War once his position “evolved” about the evil of slavery was summed up in his words, “No one has the right to do what’s wrong.” Lincoln believed in the Constitution, but he believed more in that awful bugaboo of the modern left, the natural law. Lincoln believed that someone with an active conscience could not condone slavery, no matter what the law says. The modern parallels to the pro-life movement are obvious. Maybe Spielberg should have used Hadley Arkes as a consultant.