“President Lincoln who was bearded, whose first name was Abraham, and who had freed the slaves [was], therefore, no doubt at all, a Jew, something the goyim would not concede, of course.” So riffed Yiddish poet J. L. Teller on behalf of his landslayt in his flavorsome memoir Strangers and Natives: The Evolution of the American Jews From 1921 to the Present. And so it might seem in the newly released Lincoln, a movie directed and written by two of America’s most Jewish-American dramatic artists, Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner.
Lincoln’s Lincoln (played with animatronic gravitas by a looming, stooped, all but unrecognizable Daniel Day-Lewis) is not, of course, literally Jewish—any more than, as has also been wishfully suggested of Lincoln, a person of African descent or a closeted homosexual or a vampire-hunter or an E.T. born on the planet Krypton. What out-group would not wish to identify with America’s greatest and, in many respects its least likely, president?
Endearingly or infuriatingly human in life, Lincoln endures in death as the profile on the most plebian, ubiquitous, and worthless of American coins as well as the colossal figure enshrined in a memorial of Greco-Roman-Egyptian proportions—his sculpted visage, as described by the narrator of The Plot Against America, Philip Roth’s fantasy of a corn-fed fascist state, looking like “the most hallowed possible amalgamation—the face of God and the face of America all in one.”
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