Morning Joe | October 25, 2012
>> god help us for trapping you in a marriage that's only ever given you grief.
>> the fate of human dignity is in our hands. blad's been spil blood's been spilled to afford us this moment now, now, now!
>> never trusted the president. never trusted everyone.
>> the war will be over in a month.
>> tell lincoln to deny the rumors.
>> we are guaranteed to lose the whole thing.
>> leave the constitution alone.
>> you insult god!
>> you think t
>> i am the president of the united states of america . clothed in immense power!
>> okay. that's the movie i'll see. welcome back to " morning joe ." that was part of the trailer for the new steven spielberg -directed film " lincoln ." and academy award -winning director and producer steven spielberg joins us now and "time" managing director rick stengel is here. it's amazing.
>> go ahead. give us --
>> exactly. we're revealing the cover. and i happened to bring along my old pal, steven spielberg . but our cover is "what would lincoln do?" in the midst of this tumultuous presidential campaign where people are feeling like what do these guys represent? what do they stand for? what are they talking about? we wanted to do this collaboration with steven about what would lincoln do? what are the values of leadership that he had 150 years ago that are still relevant today and why aren't we seeing them with the folks who are running?
>> steven , what's the answer to that question? rick, thank you. steven , what's the answer to that question?
>> see, i wasn't even on the monitor when i was talking.
>> "time" magazine isn't the opinion and context of the film because we don't purposely strike any parallels, and that's up to all of you to figure out what is the mirror we're holding up to today. we were, back in the 19th century , telling the story. so we really kept it relevant to lincoln 's time and lincoln 's life.
>> what does daniel day -lewis -- just is an extraordinary actor as i'm sure you'd agree -- what does his portrayal of lincoln reveal to us about a man who most of us put at the top of every list of great presidents?
>> just that, you know, lincoln , you know, as portrayed by daniel dhow lewis, was a deeply compassionate human being who understood the people who were both opposed to him and the people who were supporting him and had just a deep, deep kind of communion with all of the issues. and that his patience, which as you know, he was widely and broadly criticized for, too slow to any decision, too slow to replace mcclelland with general grant , you know, too slow to issue the emancipation proclamation , waiting for a great victory on the battlefield at antietam. all these things he came under great criticism for. and all of a sudden, he is just headstrong and hurling, you know, down the road of history to get this amendment that abolishes slavery through the house of representatives . in a sense, you know, you see all sides of him.
>> you also see the turmoil.
>> we forget, or we read the history books, but we overlook the fact that there's turmoil inside his house.
>> there's turmoil inside his union. the new york riots. this is a president that had to stare down enemies on all sides.
>> yeah, sure.
>> the other thing that the movie does is that all of these characteristics that lincoln represents, patience, strategic delay, are things that in our society now, we would castigate a candidate for. you're slow to make decisions. you change your mind all the time. it's unfortunately -- and i think it's relevant for both candidates -- there are as spepects we see in the movie from lincoln that candidates do now because they would be criticized for having lack of leadership.
>> for complete synergy, the film is based in part on doris kerns goodwin's book "team of rivals" about lincoln . and doris writes in the latest issue of "time" how abraham lincoln was able to connect with everyday americans. she writes, in part, "the white house then was so much more open than it is today. people wanting government jobs would line up by the hundreds outside lincoln 's office, each with a story to tell. a reason his family needed a clerkship or a job in a post office in order to survive. lincoln 's secretaries, john nikolay and john hay , told him he didn't have time for these ordinary people . you are wrong, he responded. these are my public opinion baths. they serve to renew in me a clearer and more vivid image of that great ssemblage of which i have sprung.
>> i want to talk about the courage that it took for lincoln to take on this fight. it seems now like an obvious thing to say which is to free our fellow human beings from bondage. how hard was that fight?
>> it was difficult. about the fight was, he did not run on the abolitionist ticket. he would not have been elected had he run as an abolitionist. he had a moral urge from his very young, you know, years that slavery was an atrocity. but at the very beginning when the war first started, you know, he could not let those border states , you know, secede and go south. and because he couldn't let that happen, he pretty much put on a political theater , political theater meaning that he said what had to be said to calm the border states down. and before the secession of the southern rebels, he tried very, very hard to prevent them from leaving by pretty much telling them anything they wanted to hear. but in his heart, in the deepest reaches of abraham lincoln , he knew that slavery had to be abolished at the very beginning of his term.
>> was it a difficult decision zeroing in on one piece of his life? i mean, it's such a broad life. how do you make a movie about it?
>> it's a really hard decision because doris 's book is brilliant. you know, i've read many books on lincoln , up to the experience i had reading doris 's book. she was sending me chapters as far back as 2003 . and what was difficult is there's so many highlights in lincoln 's presidency. for a mini-series, it would have been one template. but for a movie audience, i thought to get to know him, you had to see him wrestling with a huge crisis. not just a crisis of secession and civil war and the fact there were 700,000 killed during that war, but a crisis between abolishing slavery, which could extend the war longer if he did. and that all happened between january and april of 1865 , the end of his life.
>> what did you learn from lincoln ? from the time doris first started sending you the chapters in 2003 to finishing the movie, what was your big takeaway?
>> i have so many takeaways. but one of them was, i was kind of astonished to discover what an amazing storyteller lincoln was, what a great sense of humor he had, you know. and some of the stories he told were artful to sort of soften the beaches for an issue he wanted to bring up and he wanted his own cabinet often in opposition to him to go along with him. but he told the grittest stories. he had amazing wit and charm.
>> do we see his bouts with depression in here as well?
>> you certainly do because daniel brings every aspect of lincoln along this journey, along with him on this journey. but what you really, really, you know, see is what it was like to be a working president , this working president . and how the greatness in lincoln was touched off by the crisis he had to wrestle with.
>> one of the things i loved about the movie is you see this human side of lincoln . when he's with his family, he's almost always down on the ground playing with his kids. and you see this personal side of him. and you get a sense for any leader in that position that there is this whole world behind the curtain that affects everything that they say and do, something we discount with the guys who are in office now.
>> lincoln seems, unlike george washington or thomas jefferson or james madison , they all seemed so removed. virginia gentry. sons of elite. lincoln seems like the rest of us. a guy that struggles. a guy that loses more elections than he wins.
>> a guy who battles with depression. a guy, like you said, that gets down on the ground with his son. and yet along with george washington , this regular man who struggles with things that so many of us struggle with, one of the great presidents.
>> one of the great presidents. not the greatest-looking president in our history. i mean, because the camera wasn't around, it made it a little bit easier to get him elected, you know.
>> here's what "time" magazine editor at large, actually a lincoln expert himself, david , writes in the latest issue. " lincoln understood that even in times of extreme polarization, the moderate center is the path to presidential success. was then and is now. even as he felt his way along the tightrope, lincoln always kept his eye and the eyes of the public on the shore beyond. americans have always been a future-oriented people, and our most admired presidents have been the ones who painted tomorrow in great colors, no matter how grim the today. franklin d. roosevelt , john f. kennedy , ronald reagan all were heirs to abraham lincoln ."
>> in fact, david , in the story, david has this terrific book called "rise to greatness," which is about lincoln in 1862 which he says is the most pivotal year in american history . and he tells this story that lincoln told to a crowd once about lthis tightrope walker. think about the future and the past and you're crossing niagara falls . would you be calling out, go a little to the left, a little to the right, slower, faster. i, abraham lincoln , have all of this on my back, and everybody's telling me what to do.
>> he also, one of the remarkable things even after the war, this war that caused him so much, as it was winding down, he was the man that was telling the north with malice toward none, with charity for all. he understood that even after this terrible war, he was going to have to bring the country back together.
>> exactly. and he sadly, for us, didn't survive his term. so he really couldn't begin, let alone complete, the reconstruction.
>> we just saw, rick, obviously three presidential debates and one interesting vice presidential debate. and it seems, you know, the president had a terrible time the first debate. in the third debate, it seemed like mitt romney was sitting there and trying to remember what been put in his head.
>> and they both seemed uncomfortable at times. but you go back to lincoln 's day. you know, steven douglas and abraham lincoln debates, the guys would stand up. and how long would those debates --
>> three hours, four hours.
>> on and on. it is amazing what --
>> lincoln , i think you see a little bit of this in the movie. it's actually in david 's story. because it was an era when you could make gaffes also. the longer he was in office, the shorter his speeches became because he didn't want to give people an opportunity to pick at the things he said. for example, the gettysburg which lasts a minute and a half, the speech before was 2 1/2 hours. the other thing that the movie does, which is so interesting in the context of this election is that you realize lincoln is a practical politician. yes, he's idealistic, but he's ultimately a realist, and it's about getting things done. and the frame of the movie that steven talked about, the passage of the 13th amendment , lincoln was out there, you know, riding down boats, and how do we get the congressman from ohio and india indiana. it's interesting.
>> a little lbj in lincoln . doris , one of my favorite lines that doris says about lincoln , she says this while going around promoting the book. yes, lincoln was a great man, but lincoln was also a good man. we have a lot of great leaders who just aren't good men, but lincoln was an exception there as well.
>> lincoln had -- he had a core of decency and he really believed in everything that he, you know, that he put out there. and he just -- you have to understand that he was cut off. he had so many opponents, opposition, outsiders party, opposition within his own party. to get anything done took literally an act of congress . and he had to twist some arms to get that done.
>> and if he had had a 24/7 news cycle like we have today, he would have never -- the war would have ended because, again, riots in the north. and he was so patient, but that patience finally did reward.
>> that's true.
>> when did you decide to do this? how many chapters did it take of doris sending you, you know what? i've got to put this up on the screen.
>> i produced a segment of the millennial celebration for the white house for the clinton white house . and during that time i convened a kind of think tank including steven ambrose and ken burns , and i invited doris goodwin to be part of this think tank , try to figure out, how do we frame the last 100 years. and doris told me she was writing a book about lincoln 's presidency. at that moment, i said, "are the film rights available?" literally that day. because i had always really wanted to do something on lincoln but not until i knew doris was the one that was going to put it down on paper that i threw my hat into the ring at that point.
>> you know, "saving private ry ryan" sort of defined world war ii for a lot of people who didn't live through it. this movie will define lincoln and the 13th amendment . i have to ask what's knocking around in your head now? what's your next project in terms of history?
>> i hope linken never stops knocking around in my head. this is one film that i don't feel like taking the froth coat off and getting back into something else. i am getting back into science fiction . it's not because -- it's not a reaction to history. it's just that, you know, this has been a deep, you know, passion for me. and now that it's almost ready to come out, my next film is the complete opposite of this in terms of tone and genre.
>> jon meacham wanted me to let you know the film rights about his new book about jefferson are available.
>> thank you. that's a very compelling story, too. jefferson in paris .
>> that was a movie.
>> that was a movie.
>> so what do you watch when you're at home? do you have any favorite series? do you watch "homeland"?
>> i watch "homeland." my wife and i are complete every sunday we're there watching "homeland."
>> the same way we were there every week watching "24" a long time ago.
>> you know, i watch a lot of news. i'm kind of a news junkie.
>> have you ever heard of these guys before?
>> oh, yeah.
>> on the west coast . yeah, "homeland," talking about "homeland" --
>> i like "modern family."
>> i love "modern family."
>> i like "revolution."
>> " band of brothers ." talking about "private ryan" which sort of led into " band of brothers ." that really was the beginning of television. i won't say displacing movies, but it is ellis andrew stanley wrote this several years ago, i thought it was fascinating, when we were all growing up, you would either go to school or sit around the office. you'd talk about the movies. the great movies.
>> now it's more like hey, did you see what happened last night? can you believe what happened with brody last night? that really all did start with " band of brothers ," didn't it, in 2001 ?
>> " band of brothers " was certainly -- i've done a lot of long form, but that was the first time we took the steven ambrose book, did research, and we were able to lay out ten hours and honor the veterans. and so to me, that was interesting. but television, you know, goes way back. i just remember that my dad used to repair television sets when i was a little , little kid for extra money. and so we -- i guess we were one of the first people on our block in our neighborhood to have a television set .
>> oh, really?
>> back in the early '50s. i know the same thing happened then that happens now. if there was a really funny sid caesar sketch on shows, that was the conversation by, i guess, the sparklet's cooler. that was the conversation. so television has always had that draw. and of course, television hurt movies, you know, 60 years ago because it was the first time movies had, you know, had arrival. but now there's a very interesting balance between television watching and moviegoing.
>> there really is. rick, not that we're interested --
>> well, we should. it's apropos.
>> anything else in "time" magazine this week?
>> well, we have a great story about ohio .
>> and the election may all come down to ohio .
>> michael duffy ?
>> michael duffy edited it. it's by alex altman and michael scheerer. we had a poll yesterday which got a lot of attention. it's basically how ohio is sort of the crucible of america . it represents america . it has all the diversity of america . so all in this one state, it's like a microcosm of all of america . and that -- it's a fascinating story.
>> it really is. i traveled around a lot as a young kid. and i remember ed rellits in columbus. i was 18 or 19, and i just looked around, and it really -- it's where america all sort of collides. that state is --
>> even how the eastern part of the state which has been more affected by the auto bailout compared to the western part of the state. so people in that state, you know, have the range of opinions about the race that the whole country does. so that's why it's so pivotal.
>> and i was born there.
>> were you really?
>> what part?
>> cincinnati .
>> that explains a lot.
>> i guess it does.
>> how long did you live in cincinnati ?
>> only till i was 3 or 4.
>> 3 or 4. it explains a little less now.
>> steven spielberg and rick stengel, thank you so much.
>> thank you.
>> the new "time" cover is "what would lincoln do?" it's an incredible issue of "time" magazine. and spielberg's new film " lincoln " is set for limited release november 9th and will expand nationwide on november 16th . look out for that.
>> thank you for coming in. great honor.
>> it was wonderful. thank you very much.
>>> coming up next, richard wolffe is here. also nbc news political director chuck todd live from the campaign trail in ohio .
>> cincinnati , in fact.
>> exactly. also ahead, hurricane sandy threatens the eastern seaboard . we'll get the latest on that storm just ahead. you're watching " morning joe " brewed by starbucks.