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What President Obama Learned from Lincoln

As person of the year, President Obama was asked about the film, Lincoln:

I wanted to ask you, Mr. President, about the film Lincoln. We know that you gathered a group to see it here. And for me watching that movie, it was as if I had spent three hours with Lincoln. And I wondered how— it was a very emotional experience. And I wondered how you felt watching that movie. What was it like for you to spend that time with Lincoln?

Well, first of all, Daniel Day-Lewis was sitting next to me, or right behind me. (Laughter.) And so, even after the movie, I felt like I was still hanging out with Lincoln. He was masterful in that role. I think it’s well publicized that Lincoln is my favorite President, and so to see an intimate depiction of him in his work and the challenges that faced him even in a relatively compressed period of time was incredibly powerful.

I think it’s generally a good idea for any President not to compare himself to Lincoln. (Laughter.) And so the magnitude of his challenges and the magnitude of his gifts are of a different scope and scale of any subsequent President.

I do think that there are lessons to be drawn. Part of what Lincoln teaches us is that to pursue the highest ideals and a deeply moral cause requires you also engage and get your hands dirty. And there are trade-offs and there are compromises. And what made him such a remarkable individual, as well as a remarkable President, was his capacity to balance the idea that there are some eternal truths with the fact that we live in the here and now, and the here and now is messy and difficult. And anything we do is going to be somewhat imperfect. And so what we try to do is just tack in the right direction.

And you do understand that as President of the United States, the amount of power you have is overstated in some ways, but what you do have the capacity to do is to set a direction. And you recognize you’re not going to arrive with — you’ll never arrive at that promised land, and whatever seeds you plant now may bear fruit many years later.

So being able to project across a very long timeline while still being focused on the immediate tug and pull of politics I think is a useful lesson, and an accurate portrayal of how I think about my work day to day.

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16 Comments on this Post

  1. If Touchstone Pictures, Dreamworks and Spielberg are smart they will use what Obama had to say in their Oscar campaign. Even just a blurb would be enough.

    “I think it’s well publicized that Lincoln is my favorite President, and so to see an intimate depiction of him in his work and the challenges that faced him even in a relatively compressed period of time was incredibly powerful.” Surely the Academy cannot ignore what the President says.

  2. If they’re smart, they’ll leave contemporary politics out of it and let the film’s merits speak for themselves.

  3. Lincoln the movie has four big ones in the bag (bp, Spielberg, day-Lewis, kushner) almost at an Anne Hathaway level of certainty. Will the AMPAS spread the love in the technicals? I yh

  4. Lincoln the movie has four big ones in the bag (bp, Spielberg, day-Lewis, kushner) almost at an Anne Hathaway level of certainty. Will the AMPAS spread the love to others in the technicals? I think so. Commented max from previous thread was onto soneth

  5. Did anyone else notice how almost everyone of this sentences started with AND?

  6. Steandric

    Obama is definitely the best buzzmaker for Lincoln and Zero Dark 30.

  7. As I said in a different thread, emotionally I felt much more connected with Lincoln’s story, struggle and triumph than the entire chase/catch/kill Osama story and movie…I will see it once again right after the Holidays. Such a well-made, well-acted movie.And the final ballot scenes were not less exciting than any other action/thriller movie…Loved it.

  8. Danemychal

    Between Obama in a Time article that will be widely read and the US Senate watching your movie, endorsements don’t get much stronger in the political arena (an area which usually doesnt impact the awards season in any way, shape or form). This film has bi-partisan support!

  9. Bryce Forestieri

    The President of the US of A motherfuckers!!!

  10. Sasha, you are missing Wreck-it Ralph’s NBR win in right contender tracker.

  11. Two time winner, nice. He’s up there with George W. Bush, Dèng Xiǎopíng, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Harry S. Truman, George Marshall, Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower and of course Joseph Stalin :).

  12. Robert Butler

    Sure would be nice if politics were left off this page

  13. I can see it on the FYC posters now “[Daniel Day-Lewis] was masterful in that role” – President Obama.

    Think he has the Oscar in the bag?

  14. Linc4Jess

    The most powerful line in “Lincoln” is when Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln is frustrated with his cabinet support that he stands up and say in a firm eloquent manner….I AM PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES..CLOTHED WITH IMMENSE POWER…YOU WILL GET ME THESE TWO VOTES, I seen this picture twice and don’t look for anything political that i can use one way or another but rather a film that seem to be firing on all cylinders in all aspect of film making.

  15. Linc4Jess

    Actually the more I think of it…it was …President of the United States of America…you will secure me this two votes.

  16. REIChdome BACK with Avengeance

    NcolFirst I think this years smear will derail bigelow’s chances and given the recent negative vibe and controversy that engulfing the film and with such a debatable portrayal of waterboarding in the film, it looking like zero dark thirty will b runner up. Hollywood are a.proud culture. For a film that is steeped in darkness, Hollywood are also cynics . This can be good and bad. Lincoln is inspiring, it powerful and moving Spielberg and co. Deserve and thankfully are in the box seat to win big as they should be. And the fact the US president Obama publicly declares his love for the film, well an endorsement coming from the president is more than enough for

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