Lincoln, Health Reform, and the Hard Work of Politics

Posted on 28 November 2012

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By Anthony Wright

The new movie Lincoln, remarkable in so many ways, is not primarily about Civil War re-enactments, an unlikely election campaign, or a shocking assassination, but about the more mundane work of politics, policy, and passing legislation.

If nothing else, it reminds those of us who work in politics that merely being right is often not enough to make progress. There is perhaps no more clear-cut moral issue than the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. But passing the amendment took power and persuasion, personality and perseverance.

There are some parallels in the film to present-day political issues (which obviously are different in both historical scale and substance). The script's writer, Tony Kushner, acknowledged the similarities in an interview on Chris Hayes' MSNBC show Up. Both Kushner and Hayes drew some specific parallels to the effort to pass the Affordable Care Act - which confirmed for me that I wasn't just projecting my own focus on health reform onto the movie.

Some of the parallels were the atmospherics: the parliamentary procedure, the close votes. Some were about the need for dealmaking and bringing different factions together. Here, the delicate balance between politics and principle - of compromising to make substantive progress - is reflected in the movie and in the whole history of health reform. Kushner's discussion about the movie Lincoln and the Affordable Care Act is interesting to watch.

Hayes makes the case that even as a supporter of the law, he was always unsettled by some of the horse trading that had to be done to secure its passage - but the movie reminded him that this is true of most all big legislation - and with the ACA, it simply was more public and transparent. The show goes further into the politics of implementing the ACA, and it's worth watching the rest of it.

Tommy Christopher at the website Mediaite also took the discussion one step further, with another comparison - which is that with health reform, while the issue seems so divisive today, it may appear self-evident in a generation. But even without the analysis of what it says about today's political debates, Lincoln is a film worth seeing on its own terms.

Anthony Wright is Executive Director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups.