Melissa Harris-Perry | November 17, 2012
>>> he's been dead for nearly 150 years. yet, suddenly abe lincoln seems to be just about everywhere. the steven spielberg biopic of the 16th president opens nationwide this weekend. the film is being heralded with strong oscar buzz. president obama hosted the cast and crew of the film at the white house on thursday night. and while abe lincoln vampire hunter didn't earn quite as much critical claim, that film still brought in more than $1 hundred million at the box office . mam son.com fearings more than 200 books about honest abe , two of them by bill o 'reilly. and doris kerns good win's incredible text and arm weight remains on the "new york times" best seller paper back list. just what is it about lincoln that nearly a century and a half after his time in office he remains such an influential figure? jelani, i know, we're at the 200th anniversary and all that sort of thing. why is lincoln still so fascinating us?
>> i think lincoln was tested in ways that virtually no one had been tested just in terms of his personal trials, losing a child while in the white house , being betrayed in 1864 , former general george mcclellan ran against him for the presidency. a general whom lincoln had appointed. he had to go through immense personal trials and political trials and then there's also the martyrdom at the end of it that kind of paints him in this picture that's enabled us to make him applicable to all sorts of other struggles people have come by since then. democrats claim him, republicans claim him. he's become a universal symbol in that way.
>> congressman meeks, earlier in the show you were talking about our history as a history of compromise. and i think you know, there's a kind of discourse about lincoln that is he wasn't stephens, right the kind of radical republican who was completely for social equality . he was maybe even himself personally a racist. and yet, lincoln gets the 13th amendment that ends slavery in this country. makes it unconstitutional. what is lincoln as a strategist teaches us for today.
>> because of our president and just what he is. he's strategizing on how to make this country better place. i'm sure that as we move into this debate, the president is going to move certain things that maybe he doesn't really want to happen. but he understands it has to happen for the country to move forward. and i think that's where we need -- so lincoln sort of evolved, if you will, in trying to bring this thing together an understanding and that it was bigger than one little issue. that you've got to bring people to keep the union together. when president obama was elected he was sworn in on lincoln 's bible. he's from illinois and where he initially made his fact that he's going to run for president of the united states . i think that has a part of what it is. and then talk about the team of rivals. i think that's what president obama did in his first term. his thing was not so much to come in and stand and say this is where i am but try to bring people together so we can move the country forward. that is part of what and why we're talking about lincoln . lincoln used to say i'm not a politician. i want to be a statesman. a statesman this about the next generation and a politician just thinks about the next election.
>> the long view is very lincolnesque.
>> understanding the difference between the political campaign and governing. you've got to be magnanimous. you've got to step up and govern 100% of the people, not just the folks that voted for you. lincoln is a great example that have and president obama has reflected on that in the last four years and i expect the same. i think that a couple of things. i think that making sure that he turns his friends, his enemies i should say rather his enemies into friends. making sure that it's done without a lot of achker and personal attacks . keeping the fact that he wants a legacy, too. and that vision and that long-term goal of having good policies and making sure that those policies, the repercussions of those policies are something that are good for all americans, right? and not just those that support him. so he's got four years to govern and he's already started. it's very clear.
>> it feels more than just a metaphor. we have citizens in all 50 states signing secessionist documents, right? it's 2012 . i don't think fin's actually going anywhere. but the very notion that there could still be a sort of secessionist impulse in this nation feels like it makes lincoln particularly relevant.
>> it was a great marketing campaign for the movie.
>> i see. there's not really secessionists. it's steven spielberg .
>> genius. i think in the spirit of lincoln , certainly this president is more interested in moving the country forward than just his feather forward. there's a moment in the film which is a very poignant moment. as we head into the fiscal cliff conversations that the mez has to have a lincolnesque moment when he looks at his team and says i am the president of the united states . go procure my vote. we need that moment from this president during this debate so people of color , young people , latinos, lgbt, were protected by this president from these talks happening in washington now.
>> that's such a critically important point. the film is very much about that 13th amendment . it's not about the war. it's about how you protect the winnings of the war on the other side. more on lincoln as soon as we come back because president obama 's personal connection to president lincoln is something that he talks a lot about. but before i just want to show you a little bit of steven spielberg 's " lincoln ."
>> in his book, euclid says this is self-evident. you see, there it is, even in that 2000 -year-old book of mechanical law. it is a self-evident truth that thing that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.