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Joseph Cramer, M.D.: Where is Abraham Lincoln when we need him?

Published: Monday, Jan. 7 2013 6:50 p.m. MST

Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis appear in a scene from "Lincoln."

Twentieth Century Fox

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Lincoln: the 16th president of the United States, the Great Emancipator, the first Republican president.

Abraham Lincoln's name is spoken with such reverence it is as though he resides on Olympus. The movie whose title is his last name name portrays how he ascended to those lofty heights. However, like the anthropomorphic gods of the Greeks, he was not above plotting and exercising power to obtain his objectives.

The production of "Lincoln" is worthy of the man's legacy. Steven Spielberg deserves an Academy Award and a medal. Daniel Day-Lewis seems more Lincoln than Lincoln. If Honest Abe were to return from the dead and amble onto the filming lot, there would be competition between Day-Lewis and the apparition over who would be cast for the lead.

Lincoln comes to mind in the wake of the recent election. It was not Civil War, but it was not very civil, either.

When Republicans candidates assembled early in one of their countless debates, they were all asked who their favorite Republican was. They all unhesitatingly answered, Ronald Reagan.

After seeing this movie and thinking about American history, I hope next time they change their votes to Lincoln. “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin is the source for the screenplay. From that story, Spielberg portrays the brutal battle, not on the bloody fields of war, but to procure the votes in the House of Representatives for the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.

War is hell, as briefly but vividly illustrated by the movie. However, the ugliness of 19th century politics is at a minimum purgatory. The heated struggle was over these two sentences:

"Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

"Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

Unfortunately, human trafficking still exists in the shadows in the United States. More visible in the light, if we choose to look, are the problems caused by ignorance, fear, poverty, drugs and disease.

In the book “How Children Succeed,” Paul Tough describes how children in chronic poverty are burdened with the intellectual consequences from exaggerated physiological stress. It is called the allostatic load, the amount of damage from managing stress. The heavier the load, the more harmful the lifelong effect.

The balance of nurturing hormones is concussed out of equilibrium with the more dominating chemicals of persisting threats. Memory and executive functions are wounded. Attention is compromised. For a body to survive repeated attacks, it exists for the moment. Delay of gratification is unheard of because trust in the future is one of stress’ first casualties.

When there are inconsistent adult figures in a child’s life, connections to other humans are void and persistent commitment is not taught. The social-emotional skills of success are wounded, some fatally by deprivation, overwhelmed or absent parents, poor nutrition and chemical exposures.

Our country evolved sadly without Lincoln. The melees depicted in the well of the House foretold the complicated challenges of the coming century. The freeing of the slaves did not cure the ills of slavery. There was still ignorance, prejudice and outright hatred of another race. The debates in the House of Representatives displayed all these raw passions.

Every American should see “Lincoln,” and every politician should strive to be like Lincoln.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.

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