Why We Love Politics – NYTimes.com
That leads to the next step in the character-building trajectory, what you might call the loneliness of command. Toward the end of the civil war, Lincoln had to choose between two rival goods, immediate peace and the definitive end of slavery. He had to scuttle a peace process that would have saved thousands of lives in order to achieve a larger objective.
He had to discern the core good, legal equality, among a flurry of other issues. He had to use a constant stream of words, stories, allusions and arguments to cajole people. He had to live with a crowd of supplicants forever wanting things at the door without feeling haughty or superior to them.
If anything, the movie understates how hard politics can be. The moral issue here is a relatively clean one: slavery or no slavery. Most issues are not that simple. The bill in question here is a constitutional amendment. There’s no question of changing this or that subsection and then wondering how much you’ve destroyed the whole package.
Politicians who can navigate such challenges really do emerge with the sort of impressive weight expressed in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. It’s a speech that acknowledges that there is moral ambiguity on both sides. It’s a speech in which Lincoln, in the midst of the fray, is able to take a vantage point above it, embodying a tragic and biblical perspective on human affairs. Lincoln’s wisdom emerges precisely from the fact that he’s damaged goods.
Politics doesn’t produce many Lincolns, but it does produce some impressive people, and sometimes, great results. Take a few hours from the mall. See the movie.