David Cook: What Abe Lincoln, Gen. Petraeus and zombies have in common

David Cook: What Abe Lincoln, Gen. Petraeus and zombies have in common

November 13th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Each Tuesday, this online-only column called "The Walking David" looks at the intersection of three aspects of 21st century life: the zombie fiction of "The Walking Dead," the search for meaning and ethics in our lives, and pop culture.

"The Walking Dead" follows a band of post-zombie-apocalypse survivors, led by a deputy sheriff named Rick, who assumes the burden of leadership thanks to his blend of courage, moral backbone and ability to act in the face of vast challenges.

Or, in the gnawed-off face of approaching zombies.

Makes me think of two people.

Gen. David Petraeus.

And Abraham Lincoln.

The American spy community is reeling after last week's resignation of Petraeus, who admitted to having an extramarital affair with his biographer.

(Did you know Petraeus used Gmail for his covert affair? The head of the Central Intelligence Agency - easily the largest, most comprehensive spy program in the universe and charged with maintaining and gathering secrets so troubling as to make James Bond blush - couldn't think of a more clandestine way to hide his affair than Gmail?)

Petraeus, who had been considered as a possible future presidential candidate, resigned, since the CIA claims that knowledge of his mistress could have been used for blackmail by foreign enemies, thus putting our national security at risk.

"Intelligence officers who engage in illicit behavior may be vulnerable to blackmail by foreign spy services," The L.A. Times reported.

Say what?

If that's true, then the indecencies of many leaders have put us at great risk.

"Going back 10 presidents, I count at least three who had affairs," writes Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic.

It's a tough foreign policy equation to believe - that Petraeus' infidelity can lead to violence against America - but it does bring up moral questions.

How much does the immorality of our leaders affect us?

And what, exactly, does it mean to be a leader?

This weekend, genius director Steven Spielberg releases his epic "Lincoln" in theaters across the U.S. For two reasons, I predict it will become the top-grossing film of all time.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Tony Kushner and starring Daniel-Day Lewis, the film gathers together the most talented in the industry.

And second, we're so hungry for someone like Lincoln right now. It'll be like post-election medicine.

Lincoln is an interesting topic for Spielberg, whose early work follows an underdog theme of sorts.

Sheriff Brody in "Jaws."

Richard Dreyfuss in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Elliott in "ET."

Indiana Jones.

Each character comes into contact with some special form of knowledge. A huge shark off the coast. An alien hiding in the closet. A Nazi plot to destroy the world.

Their work then is to hold true to their knowledge while convincing the larger audience around them that it exists. Which is a good way to define leadership and the work of Lincoln.

He saw something, didn't he? He saw something about the need to hold this nation together regardless of the costs, putting him squarely in this Spielbergian tradition of visionary, prophetic characters.

I'm left wondering: Are leaders like Lincoln possible in today's world? He nestled into the perfect spot in history when we needed him most, but surely more than one Lincoln grows on the American tree.


Next week, if you see the film, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Just don't use Gmail.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.