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.
As Tony Kushner has shown throughout his career, he’s one of those self-hating lefties whose artistic ability is crippled by self-loathing and rage against conservatives. His creative adrenaline is all arsenic. In “Angels in America,” there is an awful, protracted scene in which the dying Roy Cohn is visited by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who rails at Cohn and mocks him in his last moments on earth. “I came to forgive,” she says. “But all I can do it take pleasure in your misery.” (For liberals, not even death is beyond the reach of politics.) Cohn had worked with Senator Joe McCarthy to prosecute communists in the government, and the two biggest fish they caught were spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. For years the left insisted that the Rosenbergs were innocent, until the Soviet Venona cables were declassified in 1995 and it was revealed that Julius was indeed a spy who had passed vital national security information to the Soviets, much more than originally thought, and that Ethel was at least an accomplice. Kushner’s “Angels in America” was first mounted in 1991, so the hospital scene in it now appears naive and ridiculous. Or rather, more naive and ridiculous.
Kushner, like most liberal fanatics, is a preacher and a zealot. His form of liberalism, like so much liberalism today, is coercive. He won’t be able to stop himself until he has Lincoln in bed with another man and is able to convince the audience that Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln was a betrayal of his real self and a duet to the virtually Stone Age morality of the 1860s. It will be another version of the hetero-domestic hell of dippy women and screaming toddlers in “Brokeback Mountain.” There will be plenty of other ham-fisted political messaging. We’ll see the ghoulish, toothless redneck Southerners, who will be the Nazis of the film and the stand-ins for the modern GOP. There will be the saintly slaves, whose beatings and misery will be graphic and reinforce our guilt over Evil America. There will be breathtaking battle scenes thanks to Spielberg. And above it all, the first and greatest gay progressive to occupy the White House, Honest Abe. The movie that portrays Lincoln as a vampire hunter will be more accurate, and I’m not kidding.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.