Presidential debates neither are nor ought to be midterm exams. The people who administer midterms do not necessarily possess political wisdom (see “Wilson, Woodrow”), and the people who excel at taking them may be better at demonstrating technical detail than prudential judgment (see above). Thus questions that make a candidate stumble—and that can win the journalistic brass ring for the moderator, namely, instigating news—tend not to be as valuable as those that prompt reflection and reveal a mind at work.
Mr. Gerry never expected to hear, in a republic, a motion to empower the Executive alone to declare war. - Constitutional Convention, August 17. Quaint, that Elbridge Gerry—hung up as he was on the idea that an Executive might need to be empowered to declare war. Two-hundred-and-twenty-seven years nearly to the day after that remark, and one year ago today, the United States commenced military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. One year, $3.3 billion, 5,000 airstrikes and 3,500 ground troops later—hardly repelling a sudden attack—Congress has yet to raise its timid hand to assert its institutional authority. The Obama Administration,…
Director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s Lincoln opens with a chaotic battle in a river, black and white soldiers struggling to kill each other in hand-to-hand combat. We then see pairs of black and white soldiers reciting from memory the Gettysburg Address back to the President.
Lincoln concludes the movie by delivering the Second Inaugural. Most of the time in between is an elaboration of his wartime and Reconstruction strategy and thus a commentary on the purposes of the First Inaugural and the Emancipation Proclamation. These occasions are the rhetorical high points of Lincoln’s presidency, though most of the movie is focused on events in early 1865.