Media attacked as “ridiculous” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s citation of Abraham Lincoln during the second presidential debate in explaining why she said during a 2013 speech that politics can require taking different public and private positions. According to The Associated Press, Clinton was correct that she was talking about Lincoln in her 2013 remarks, and according to Time magazine, Clinton accurately characterized Lincoln’s actions in her debate answer.
Clinton Cited Abraham Lincoln During Second Presidential Debate
Asked About A Speech Clinton Gave At A Private Event, She Explained That She Was Referencing Lincoln’s Efforts To Pass The 13th Amendment. Asked to respond to a summary of a private speech in which she reportedly argued “you need to have a public position and a private position on policy,” Clinton explained that she was referencing the 2012 film Lincoln that chronicled tactics Lincoln used to ensure adoption of the 13th Amendment. Clinton said, in part, “I was making the point that it is hard sometimes to get the Congress to do what you want to do and you have to keep working at it. And, yes, President Lincoln was trying to convince some people, he used some arguments, convincing other people, he used other arguments.” From The New York Times’ debate transcript:
MARTHA RADDATZ (MODERATOR): Thank you, Mr. Trump. I want to move on. This next question from the public through the Bipartisan Open Debate Coalition’s online forum, where Americans submitted questions that generated millions of votes. This question involves WikiLeaks release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu (ph), from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes.
CLINTON: Well, right. As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called “Lincoln.” It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic.
And I was making the point that it is hard sometimes to get the Congress to do what you want to do and you have to keep working at it. And, yes, President Lincoln was trying to convince some people, he used some arguments, convincing other people, he used other arguments. That was a great -- I thought a great display of presidential leadership. [The New York Times, 10/10/16]
Media Call Clinton’s Explanation That She Was Referencing Lincoln “Ridiculous”
Wash. Post’s Chris Cillizza: Clinton’s Reference To Lincoln “Was Ridiculous.” In his review of the debate, Chris Cillizza, who runs the politics blog “The Fix” for The Washington Post, wrote, “Clinton's answer on her email server was meh and her Abraham Lincoln defense on her speeches to Wall Street was ridiculous.” [The Washington Post, 10/9/16]
CNN Politics Executive Editor Mark Preston: “She Is Incredibly Vulnerable, She Is A Very Flawed Candidate, She Has A Lot Of Political Liabilities, That Answer Was Ridiculous.” CNN’s Carol Costello characterized Clinton’s answer as a “strange argument,” “convoluted,” and odd, and then CNN Politics executive editor Mark Preston called her answer “ridiculous”:
CAROL COSTELLO (HOST): Hillary Clinton, she was asked whether she thought things in private that she didn’t express publicly, right? And how does she handle that? And she oddly brought up Abraham Lincoln, and Trump pounced. Let’s listen.
COSTELLO: First of all, it was kind of a strange argument, right, Abraham Lincoln? And then it was so convoluted that you were left going, “What?” And then Donald Trump hit her.
MARK PRESTON: The late great Abe Lincoln -- that’s what you say about baseball players from the 1950s. … Here’s the thing about this. She is incredibly vulnerable, she is a very flawed candidate, she has a lot of political liabilities, that answer was ridiculous. I needed a map to kind of follow what path she was going down, and then I still think I got lost in that, as I think most viewers did. [CNN, CNN Newsroom with Carol Costello, 10/10/16]
CNN Anchor Carol Costello: Clinton “Tried To Intellectualize It,” Making Her Answer “So Quintessentially What A Democrat Would Say.” From the October 10 broadcast of CNN Newsroom with Carol Costello:
CAROL COSTELLO (HOST): Hillary Clinton’s answer was so quintessentially what a Democrat would say in answering that question. It was all over the place and it was -- tried to intellectualize it and seriously, why can’t you just say we’re all one person at work and in private we’re another person? [CNN, CNN Newsroom with Carol Costello, 10/10/16]
Trump Surrogate Rudy Giuliani On MSNBC: “How Ridiculous Was Her Explanation About Abraham Lincoln?” [MSNBC, Live Post Debate, 10/9/16]
Clinton Was Accurate In Explaining The Basis For Her Comment And Correct In Describing Tactics Used By Lincoln To Abolish Slavery
AP: “Clinton's Recollection Is Correct.” The AP’s fact check of Clinton’s statement ruled that Clinton was indeed referring to the movie Lincoln during her 2013 speech at the National Multifamily Housing Council:
HILLARY CLINTON, in response to a question about her saying that politicians need to have “both a public and a private position” in a 2013 paid speech, said, “As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called Lincoln. It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment.”
DONALD TRUMP replied, “She lied. Now she's blaming the lie on the late, great Abraham Lincoln.”
THE FACTS: Clinton's recollection is correct.
Clinton invoked the movie “Lincoln,” and the deal-making that went into passage of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, in an April 2013 speech to the National Multifamily Housing Council.
According to excerpts of the speech included in hacked emails published last week by WikiLeaks, Clinton said politicians must balance “both a public and a private position” while making deals, a process she said was like making sausage.
“It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be,” Clinton said according to the excerpts. “But if everybody's watching, you know, all of the backroom discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.” [The Associated Press, 10/9/16]
Time Magazine’s Lily Rothman: In Maneuvering For 13th Amendment Adoption, “Lincoln Did Not Reveal Everything Publicly That He Knew Privately.” Lily Rothman, Time magazine’s history/archives editor, explained some of the tactics Lincoln used to shore up support for the 13th Amendment in Congress, which included not revealing all that he knew about a possible Confederate surrender to congressmen who he believed would be less likely to vote for the 13th Amendment if peace was achieved without the abolition of slavery:
Though the ratification date [of the 13th Amendment] coming after the end of the Civil War may make it seem that the amendment’s passage was a foregone conclusion, that was far from the case. In fact, the amendment was first debated about a year before Appomattox, and failed to pass the House of Representatives in 1864. Lincoln personally pushed for the Congress to reconsider as soon as possible.
In the book Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment, Christian G. Samito explains that legislators disagreed fiercely over the amendment: some feared that ending slavery before the war ended would discourage the South from surrendering, others worried that the amendment did not go far enough in defining rights for black Americans.
Some of Lincoln’s work to get the votes he needed took the form of small-scale political maneuvering—for example, Samito explains that there was an open seat for a judge position in Missouri, a state that was home to multiple congressmen who might be convinced, and that Lincoln did not announce whom he would appoint until after both of them had voted for the amendment—but there is one particular private/public difference to which Clinton was likely referring, based on the attention it received in the film.
That matter was the question of whether the amendment might derail a potential pre-abolition peace. The more likely peace seemed, the less likely it was that those on the fence would support the amendment. If peace seemed impossible, they were more likely to try support ending slavery as a wartime tactic, even if they were otherwise less firmly convinced that the end of slavery should be a priority.
In other words, Lincoln did not reveal everything publicly that he knew privately. So how would Lincoln respond to a question about whether that was an appropriate thing for a president to do? At least as depicted in the film cited by Clinton, he believed it was perfectly appropriate in the service of a cause as great as abolition. [Time magazine, 10/10/16]