In the films “Barack Obama: Great Expectations” and “The Hope & the Change” you see two vastly different approaches to profiling the president. The first one attempts an objective documentary, using mostly archival film footage and interviews with journalists, politicians and members of Obama’s White House staff. The second is an hour-long biased ad masquerading as a movie produced by an anti-Obama political organization.
We’ve seen the first aired on Link TV, the progressive satellite channel dedicated to world news shows and documentaries that aren’t broadcast elsewhere in the U.S. The second film is appearing on the HD Net Movies channel.
“Great Expectations,” which covers Obama’s four-year term, runs two hours, including breaks totaling about 20 minutes to raise money for the nonprofit Link TV. Strangely, Link doesn’t show credits at the film’s end, but the channel’s website informs us the film uses NBC film archive footage.
Obama’s White House cadre like Larry Summers (economic advisor), Gregory Craig (legal counsel on Guantanamo), and Adam Frankel (speechwriter), of course, have an agenda; so their interviews tend to be cautious with attempts at candor through generalities. The interviews with journalists like Peter Baker and Jodi Kantor of The New York Times, Scott Wilson of The Washington Post, and Ray Lizza of The New Yorker, are more specific and revealing. But they also choose their words with a careful respect which seems common these days of the Washington press corps. They prefer to be politely critical rather than challenging.
The telling points of “Great Expectations”: Obama came into office with five major-make that massive-objectives: turn around the depressed economy; pass universal health care; negotiate peace between Israel and Palestine; get out of Iraq and Afghanistan; close Guantanamo and send the message to the world that the United States doesn’t torture humans.
The result: He turned to political expediency. The interviewees note he refused to go after Wall Street, the culprits of the failed economy. He at first ordered Guantanamo closed, then backed off, choosing not to fight the Republican opposition to it. He’s now dealing with an Israel that’s threatening to attack Iran. He increased troops to Iraq, is now removing those, is stuck in Afghanistan though announcing withdrawal. He’s led the NATO effort at invading Libya to continue war in the Middle East. And interviewees, including The Washington Post‘s Wilson emphasize Obama won’t attack Iran “this year,” which is Washingtonese for “wait until after he’s re-elected.”
The film reveals Obama’s stubborn dedication to passing universal health care legislation, which he does. But the interviews indicate he does it, not so much to help people, as to secure his own legacy.
The problems with “Great Expectations”: it spends little time on the economy, which is the key to the rest of his and the nation’s agenda. There’s one mention of Dodd-Frank, legislation which was supposed to corral Wall Street, and there’s an avoidance of dealing with the Federal Reserve and with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the government’s two major influences on the economy.
Instead, the film spends 20 minutes enthralled with Obama’s decision to kill Osama bin Laden and thus probably get himself re-elected. Interviewees seem amazed that he could spend the day secretly planning and approving the attack on Osama’s hideout in Pakistan, and then that evening shine with humor at the Washington Press Corps dinner. WNBC-TV correspondent Richard Wolffe refers to it as “chilling” and “coldly calculating.”
Welcome to Washington, Richard. Which leads us to other “chilling” and “coldly calculating” Obama efforts which the film doesn’t mention: massive surveillance of Americans, his war on government whistleblowers after his preaching transparency, and his “kill list” and growing secret drone warfare which indiscriminately murders innocent civilians while targeting “suspected” terrorists.
As for “The Hope & the Change,” it could be enough to simply report it’s created by Citizens United Productions. Citizens United is the conservative nonprofit best known for its Supreme Court case that allowed corporations and unions to pay for political ads made independently of candidates’ campaigns. Its production company has made over 20 films, including “Hillary: The Movie” critical of Hillary Clinton; “ACLU: At War with America;” and “Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny.”
The hour-long film bills itself as “The surprising journey of 40 Democrats and Independents from across America who supported Obama in 2008.” Not surprisingly, they all say now they can’t afford to support him in 2012.
But while the 40 are billed as Democrats and Independents, it’s rather like a Citizens Anonymous review. We’re only given the interviewees’ first names and the states where they allegedly reside. So there’s no way to check and make sure they’re legitimate, or just actors.
And the production would have Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, giggling in his grave. The slick color production portrays the characters in or outside their homes, talking about how Obama has disappointed them on the issues, with short snippets of conversations that hit the emotional jugular: home mortgages, health care, taxes, birth control, the bailout, all viewed from the personal angle:
“Nobody’s bailing me out.” “Obamacare is unconstitutional.” “I’m working two jobs while he’s hobnobbing with Hollywood…and taking vacations.” “We don’t go out anymore.” “We don’t even have a cell phone.” “Our taxes are going up.”
It doesn’t mention Obama’s approval of massive surveillance of Americans, war on whistleblowers, or drone warfare, which would indicate Citizens United might want to continue those.
Still, throughout the hour-long ad, the various voices repeat over and over the frustrated emotional complaints in a crafty way that’s easy to identify with and believe, and by hour’s end it just might have you nodding “yes.” A solid lesson in spreading propaganda.