'Lincoln' Screenwriter: Obama Win a Rejection of 'Psychotic' Reagan Era Ideology

Tony Kushner, the screenwriter behind the Oscar nominated movie 'Lincoln,' compared Barack Obama to the 16th president and called the defeat of Mitt Romney a "rejection" of the "Reagan era ideology" that leads to a "frightening" path of "psychotic individualism."

Appearing on Thursday's edition of PBS's Charlie Rose show the openly gay playwright called Obama's evolution on same-sex marriage "Lincolnian" and roasted Ronald Reagan, Romney and the Tea Party: (Video after the jump) 

 

TONY KUSHNER: So you have people like these Tea Party people protesting government and then asked if they really want to give up their Social Security payments. And they don't seem to know that, that is actually part of what government is. There's a rejection of the sort of basic idea of human community behind the Reagan, behind Reagan era ideology that is really frightening. And it leads us to terrible, terrible places.

And now that we're facing challenges like climate change that absolutely demand a global collective response, an organized global collective response. We have no hope for survival as a species if we continue down the path of this kind of psychotic individualism...I think we're beginning to see, in the last election we saw, I think, a real rejection. I mean what Romney basically had to offer was the same old trickle-down nonsense and people said I don't believe it any more.

After that rant, Kushner told Rose he was able to sing Obama's praises to his face, when he screened the movie for him: "I also got to say to him at the White House, I thought the way he handled same sex marriage was Lincolnian."

Kushner then continued the historic parallels when he revealed he and his Upper West Side friends woke up terrified on Election Day, fearing a Romney win would've been perilous for the nation:  

Democracy in 1865 was still a question. And it's still a question today. I mean I know so many people that woke up on election morning, you know, where I live on the Upper West Side at any rate, woke up thinking, "Oh my God, what if at the end of the night we have Mitt Romney as president?" And you know, what does that say about the American people? And what are -- is democracy a bad idea is what you start to think, you know. Or have the people been so misled and bamboozled that they would elect this really unworthy -- sorry, Mitt -- but you know, but I think a person not worthy of the office. And not re-elect this guy who I think is one of our great presidents. And you get reconfirmed in your faith.

The following are the relevant exchanges from the interview as it was aired on the February 14 edition of PBS's Charlie Rose show:

Comparing Obama to Lincoln:

TONY KUSHNER: The thing that I think changed me and it was a great privilege and blessing to work on this during the Obama years. I started during the Bush years but by the time I figured out how to do the screenplay it was already '07. And by the time I got the Steven [Spielberg] the first draft we were a few month away from the election, the '08 election. And I have been working on Lincoln all through the first term of office President Obama had.

And you know I consider myself a person of the left. And -- and I have left impatience with the pace of change and I am aware that people suffer terribly while they`re waiting for change to happen. The most vulnerable people suffer the most terribly. And I'm a gay man and I`ve been waiting a long time for, you know, full enfranchisement and I`m still not there.

But watching this President and reading about that President, I really began to think long and hard about the processes of electoral democracy and the pace of change in an electoral democracy and what's possible, you know. They're not the same people by any means and the situation is not the same. But I think you could say -- you could argue that Barack Obama faced in '08 a situation, you know, as bad as any president since the Great Depression. Nothing is as bad as what Lincoln arrived in Washington to face. The country was literally disintegrating and the Navy was staffed by people who were all leaving with their boats for the south. I mean it was a -- it was nightmare.

But what Obama inherited from the Bush Administration is, you know, we all remember, is just an absolute global catastrophe on every level. And I think he`s done an astonishing job beginning to turn that around. And like Lincoln there has been an enormous amount of criticism of our president, our current president from the left in terms of -- that comes from an impatience with, you said that you were, you know, going to do this and you said you were going to do that, why hasn`t it happened. And the fact of the matter is that when are you elected President of the United States rather than king of the United States, you have to work with a very cumbrous, unwieldy machinery.

Bashing conservatives:

KUSHNER: I got to say this to the President when we went to the White House with the movie. What I think he's done that Lincoln did was to constantly articulate for the people while making sausages, while making these compromises.

CHARLIE ROSE: Yes.

KUSHNER: The place that we're ultimately headed for, I think, that he's been very careful to say that he rejects the idea that government is evil. I mean I just saw a U.S. senator standing on the floor of the U.S. Senate talking about taming the beast. And it`s like, you're a U.S. senator this is not the beast. This is the federal government of the United States of America. It's appalling for a U.S. senator to describe the government as a beast. And I think that Obama has made a very determined and conscious effort to keep saying over and over again, government is not the enemy.

ROSE: Yes.        

KUSHNER: Government is an expression of, you know, the better angels of our nature. Government is our way as a society of expressing ourselves in history and historical time in action. And that`s -- immensely important.

ROSE: The definition of the role of government is an ongoing theme of American politics.

KUSHNER: Yes, so you have people like these Tea Party people protesting government and then asked if they really want to give up their Social Security payments.

ROSE: Yes.        

TONY KUSHNER: And they don't seem to know that, that is actually part of what government is. There`s a rejection of the sort of basic idea of human community behind the Reagan, behind Reagan era ideology that is really frightening. And it leads us to terrible, terrible places.

And now that we're facing challenges like climate change that absolutely demand a global collective response, an organized global collective response. We have no hope for survival as a species if we continue down the path of this kind of psychotic individualism. The individual is very important but just as important to human beings is our relational capacity.

And I think that -- I think it's slowly turning around. I think we`re beginning to see, in the last election we saw, I think, a real rejection. I mean what Romney basically had to offer was the same old trickle-down nonsense and people said I don`t believe it any more.


On same-sex marriage:

ROSE: Do you think we have come 90 percent of the way on same-sex marriage?

KUSHNER: Well, not 90 percent. I mean we`re so --

ROSE: 50, 60.        

KUSHNER: I don't know where we are yet.

ROSE: OK. But we're somewhere that we were not four years ago in terms of the body politics.        

KUSHNER: Oh, yes. I mean there's been an amazing progress. Some of it I think due to the President. I also got to say to him at the White House, I thought the way he handled same sex marriage was Lincolnian. I mean he started out in '08 saying I don't believe that marriage should be - - I believe marriage is between a man and woman but I'm evolving. And that was clearly code to anybody with a brain saying, you know, of course I believe in same-sex marriage. The constitutional law scholar, he understands the difference.

ROSE: But the cynics among the left did not like that.

TONY KUSHNER: People took him at his word, read him fundamental -- you know, literally which we shouldn't do. You interpret Barack Obama clearly as a progressive person who understands the difference between secular marriage, government marriage -- you know, sanctioned marriage and religious institutions. So the idea that he was -- but as an African- American man running for president in 2008, maybe he thought he couldn`t add to that also, that he was going to come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

He picked a moment to say it and he picked exactly the right moment to say it. And when he said it, he also included lesbian -- families headed by lesbians and gay men. And so he moved it not just to the area of marriage but to the area of families and adoption as well. And he picked the right moment because it never became an issue in the election.

Bashing Romney:

KUSHNER: I mean you know, the people that died at Gettysburg, Lincoln says testing whether, you know, "this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure." He wasn't speaking fancifully. Democracy in 1865 was still a question. And it's still a question today.

I mean I know so many people that woke up on election morning, you know, where I live on the Upper West Side at any rate, woke up thinking oh my God, what if at the end of the night we have Mitt Romney as president. And you know, what does that say about the American people? And what are -- is democracy a bad idea is what you start to think, you know. Or have the people been so misled and bamboozled that they would elect this really unworthy -- sorry, Mitt -- but you know, but I think a person not worthy of the office. And not re-elect this guy who I think is one of our great presidents. And you get reconfirmed in your faith.

But it's still a question. I mean you know, God doesn't really guarantee the existence of our country. No divine right of kings does. We sort of made it up and we keep it going. And I think that`s fascinating. And the question of, you know, endless national definition interests me.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.