WASHINGTON >> Helped by Hollywood, President Barack Obama’s campaign has released a nearly 17-minute documentary that portrays the president as a resolute figure who confronted a massive economic downturn and the aftermath of the nation’s war on terrorism with determination and a series of tough decisions.
The documentary, commissioned by the Obama campaign, provides a window into how his team is trying to sell the president’s re-election bid: As a man of principle who faced daunting challenges from the moment he won election but persevered to rescue the U.S. auto industry, begin rebuilding the economy, pass health care reform and authorize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
“As president, the tough decisions that he would make would not only determine the course of the nation, but they would reveal the character of the man,” says actor Tom Hanks, the film’s narrator.
Obama’s campaign released “The Road We’ve Traveled” today at 300 screenings across the nation. The documentary was directed by Davis Guggenheim, whose credits include the Academy Award-winning, “An Inconvenient Truth,” about Al Gore’s global-warming campaign.
Republicans have dismissed the film, which cost at least $345,000 to make, as nothing more than a slick piece of propaganda that fails to take full stock of Obama’s presidency. Critics will likely note that the documentary doesn’t emphasize a jobless rate of more than 8 percent during most of Obama’s presidency, mounting debt or spiking gas prices.
“The American people don’t need a Hollywood movie to know what the president accomplished over the past three years,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman. “Unfortunately Americans feel Obama’s accomplishments each and every day after President Obama led our country to higher unemployment, record debt, and higher gas prices.”
In the week since Obama’s campaign released a trailer for the film, Republicans have pointed to an interview Guggenheim gave to CNN’s Piers Morgan in which the director said “the negative for me was there were too many accomplishments” to cite in the film. “I’m really quite in awe of him as a leader and the choices he made,” he told Morgan.
The documentary features interviews with former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others, offering a mostly grim recounting of the problems Obama tackled. After hearing of the dire economic conditions shortly after Obama’s election, his adviser David Axelrod recalls, “All I was thinking at this moment — could we get a recount?”
Clinton is a voice of validation throughout the film, crediting Obama for his decision to pursue health care reform — an overhaul that eluded his own presidency — and swift moves to rescue General Motors and Chrysler from collapse. The former president is effusive in his praise of Obama’s green-lighting of the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden.
“He took the harder and the more honorable path. When I saw what had happened, I said to myself, ‘I hope that’s a call I would have made,”‘ Clinton said. Biden says of Obama’s decision: “If he was wrong, his presidency was done. Over.”
Obama’s interview is used sparingly. The president talks about how his mother’s finances were drained by her struggle with cancer — underscoring his pursuit of health care reform — and how he felt after the killing of bin Laden.
Obama said he “didn’t have time for a lot of feelings” following the raid “because our guys were still in that compound. And it wasn’t until I knew they were across the border, they were safe, everyone was accounted for, including the dog, that I allowed some satisfaction.”
The film takes a dig at Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, showing his 2008 New York Times op-ed on the faltering U.S. auto industry, which was entitled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
“A lot of conventional wisdom wanted to do what Mitt Romney did, let it go. It can’t be saved. Why put good money after bad?” said Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff. The film says the decision led to a “resurgent” auto industry.
Hanks concludes the film by telling viewers “we would see rewards from tough decisions he had made. Not for quick political gain but for long-term and enduring change.” He encourages people to “remember how far we’ve come and look forward to the work still to be done.”
Left unsaid: Whether Obama’s presidency will have a Hollywood ending in the minds of his supporters — a second term.