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Bicentennial Podcast: Some Really Smart People Talk About Abraham Lincoln


This would have been Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, if he had not gotten himself shot and if humans had, in the intervening years, discovered how to keep from dying so much. Regardless, the bicentennial seems to be worth celebrating -- that is, if having another young Illinois ex-congressman in the White House were not celebration enough. 

Earlier this week, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. -- who opined not long ago that President Lincoln may not actually have liked President Obama so much, Obama being, y'know, black and all --  convened a panel of famous Lincoln experts, including Harvard president Drew Faust; the eminent and very gay dramatist Tony Kushner; New Yorker staffer Adam Gopnik, Yale's David Blight, Harvard's John Stauffer; and Gettysburg College's Allen Guelzo -- for a long talk about ole Abe. All of them make appearances in Gates's new PBS documentary Looking for Lincoln, which debuted last night and is now streaming on the interwebs. We have no idea what Doris Kearns Goodwin had going on elsewhere that was so important -- but pretty much everyone there had read her book (especially Kushner, who is writing the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's adaptation of it), so her absence was almost forgiveable. 

As reported here yesterday, Kushner let loose a few stray details of Speilberg's Lincoln bio-pic. Headlines: the funding is scheduled to be finalized this week, the movie is scheduled to be out at Christmas, and the script -- pared down to 160 pages from a first draft of 500 -- covers just four months of Lincoln's life. Extrapolating from a few of Kushner's other comments (he mentions that the 13th ammendment is "a big thing in my movie," and also that he's been spending a lot of time with Lincoln's final speech) it's easy to extrapolate that those four months span, roughly, December of 1865 through Lincoln's death the following April.

For all that, our favorite exchange has nothing to do with the movie. 

GATES: Could we discuss Lincoln's sexuality, my brother? Was lincoln gay or straight, Tony?

KUSHNER:  I think that there's the possibility that lincoln was bisexual. Shakespeare was. Why not Lincoln? All the best people are!

DOWNLOAD: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Tony Kushner, Adam Gopnik, et al, "Looking for Lincoln, In His Time and Ours" [mp3] 

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