Sunday, November 11, 2018

Lincoln and the Jews

Attended a lecture tonight sponsored by the Foundation for Jewish Studies by Prof. Jonathan D. Sarna of Brandeis University on "Lincoln and the Jews," which turned out to be a highly entertaining as well as informative experience. Prof. Sarna is a top-notch lecturer and I was already familiar with his subject from having seen an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society on the subject, which in turn was based on his book that bears the same title as his lecture.

My general interest in the Civil War and Lincoln, in particular, has grown over the years, sparked to some degree by my giving more attention to my grandfather's extensive writing on Lincoln. He was both an historian and a collector--in fact, he seems to have spent much of his fortune earned from successful law practice on collecting Lincolniana.

One of his books was a compilation of eulogies delivered by rabbis in the U.S. following Lincoln's assassination in 1865, entitled Abraham Lincoln: The Tribute of the Synagogue. At the question time after the lecture, I asked Prof. Sarna what he might be able to say about contacts between Lincoln and Jewish leaders, rabbis in particular.

Prof. Sarna's reply was comprehensive in his noting that Lincoln definitely had met several prominent Jewish clergymen, including Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati, who was the principal founding spirit of the Reform movement in the U.S. And he also referred to the massive gathering of rabbis who travelled to Washington to protest General Grant's notorious order expelling Jews from a war zone in Kentucky.

He has written an entire book about this incident, and did observe that Lincoln had revoked Grant's order before the rabbis even managed to descend on Lincoln at the White House--this was a time when visitors were able to get to see the chief executive much more easily by just going to the White House.

There was much of interest in Prof. Sarna's talk, including accounts of individual Jewish friends and colleagues of Lincoln. He also referred to Lincoln's extraordinary familiarity with the Bible and his inclusion of Biblical references in many of his speeches and writings. He also noted that Lincoln cleared the way for the first Jewish chaplain to be appointed in the U.S. Army and would have named the first female chaplain had he not felt constrained by existing law.

One of Lincoln's most effective uses of Biblical sources was in the Second Inaugural. Perhaps Prof. Sarna might have mentioned it had he more time because many are unfamiliar with the major part of the address that precedes the famed "With malice toward none..." concluding paragraph:

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Fourth 'A Star in Born' Movie

The newest  A Star is Born movie is surprisingly good. The story is obviously a good vehicle that can be adapted to suit the different times when each film was made. I have never seen the first one--starring Frederic March and Janet Gaynor--but the early 1950's production with Judy Garland and James Mason was definitely a classic, both for the acting and Garland's peerless singing. The Barbra Streisand--Kris Kristofferson 1976 version, which I also did not see, sounds like it was all right as a vehicle for both leads, who of course emphasized the singing. 

The biggest surprise of the current film is the discovery that Bradley Cooper can sing, and sing well. Lady Gaga's ability to act probably deserves equal billing here, too. Sam Elliott was excellent in a major supporting role, one that Gary Busey portrayed in the Streisand production.

It was delightful to watch Cooper and Lady G perform as singers and musicians, which lent the picture extra verisimilitude. After all, this is something of a threadbare plot that in lesser hands, should have been laid to rest. I'm not a great believer in remakes but the fact that there have been so many of this vehicle and that the latest is really good is the exception that proves the rule.

It was amazing that both leads here held my attention fully. In the most classic Garland-Mason film, one recalls Garland's singing and Mason's acting, both superb. That picture also had the "inside Hollywood" flavor which worked well for it that fortunately was not something the current movie even aimed to duplicate. Instead, it was geared to today's show business milieu.

The Democrats' Win

A commentator observed the other day that while a "blue wave" may not have characterized the election results, the election was a big win for the Democrats. He's right. The media, as usual, have failed to provide real analysis and instead decided to focus on a few elections -- Florida, Georgia, and Texas -- that fail to present the full national picture.

The Democrats gained seven governorships and at least 31 House seats, making the House gain one of the largest in history. They had the worst break in many decades in terms of how many of their Senate seats were up this time as compared with the Republicans so their modest loss there is less significant in depicting the tenor of the entire national result.

The Dems also gained hundreds of state legislative seats and started to make a comeback at that level that will help them in the redistricting and reapportionment following the 2020 census. The current party leadership deserves credit for this as they took a more active role than Obama's administration did, which is when many of the losses occurred despite the victories at the presidential election level.

Florida and Georgia got attention because the media is fascinated with the possibility of "first African American" officeholders in those jurisdictions. More attention should have been given to the apparent efforts by GOP incumbents to suppress voting, intentional failure by Republican governors of both states to make voting more difficult, and Kemp's refusal until the election was over to surrender his position in charge of administering the election. Note that former President Carter registered his complaint this obvious conflict of interest, which got minimal attention from the media.

Texas was a loss because O'Rourke ran a stronger campaign and did better than any Democrat had done state-wide for many decades. He did not win so it certainly was not a victory. However, he may have established himself as a potential player at both the state and national level anyway. 

Joe Manchin managed to win in West Virginia despite the massive Republican victory there in 2016. He did well because he understood his constituents and may have correctly decided to vote for Kavanagh because his vote was not critical. Heitkamp and McCaskill deserve a lot of credit for sticking their necks out to vote against Kavanagh. It is likely that in their states they were destined to lose anyway so it is unlikely that that one vote made a major difference.

So you might be influenced by the warped media coverage to regard the day as a draw, since the two houses are divided, or even as a GOP win, which appears to merit being regarded as an outright falsehood.