The new Obama campaign film “The Road We’ve Traveled” offers a view of the President’s first term that’s at once sweeping and cursory, and entirely favorable.
And to the team of Democratic strategists and Hollywood stars who produced it, that’s precisely the point.
The 17-minute film, crafted by Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim, reprises with dramatic flourishes the highlights of Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda, particularly those with the greatest appeal to his liberal base.
Narrator Tom Hanks sets the opening scene in late 2008, immediately after Obama’s historic election and at the height of the financial crisis that had gripped the country.
Interspersing images of modern day jobless lines with breadlines from the 1930s, the film equates the challenges Obama faced with those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.
“Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt had so much fallen on the shoulders of one president,” Hanks says.
“As president, the tough decisions that he would make would not only determine the course of the nation,” he says. ”They’d reveal the character of the man.”
Key figures including former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, senior White House adviser David Axelrod and Elizabeth Warren, special adviser to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, provide first-hand accounts of how Obama made those decisions and the enormous stakes that came with them.
Their testimonies portray Obama as a risk-taker who could have faced swift demise if he failed, from securing passage of the Recovery Act, throwing a lifeline to GM and Chrysler, to navigating the health care reform fight and Tea Party ire it ignited.
Obama’s decision to end the war in Iraq and refocus the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan “on those who attacked us” are upheld as promises kept from 2008.
While his decision to authorize a raid to capture or kill Osama bin Laden – which Biden says put Obama’s presidency on the line – is upheld as “the ultimate test of leadership, a victory for our nation.”
The film moves more quickly through other accomplishments since 2009, touching on fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, exemptions for some states from No Child Left Behind, fixes to the student loan system, repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” and the recess appointment of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray, among others.
You can watch the entire film HERE.
Ahead of the film’s release, Republicans mocked it for presenting an incomplete picture of what has been a polarizing Obama presidency. ”After four years, the only bad thing they found about their time in office was that it was just too good,” reads a parodied movie poster featuring Obama’s likeness, produced by the Republican National Committee.
Indeed, few of the things voters in a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll identified as Obama’s “biggest failures” made it into the film. Voters ranked, in order, “unable to improve economic conditions,” “increasing government spending,” “not providing strong leadership,” and “passing the health care law,” as their least-liked aspects of his presidency.
The Obama film also suggests that the president’s health care law has stunted a trend of rising costs that have been “crushing family budgets and choking business,” but glosses over the fact that costs have continued to rise. Health care premiums went up sharply in 2011 and are projected to continue climbing next year and beyond, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (The administration has said that by 2019 the average family will save $2000 on their premiums.)
Asked why the film avoids many of the controversial aspects of the administration, producer/director Davis Guggenheim told ABC News that the audience doesn’t expect to see the negatives from Obama’s first term.
“It’s a campaign film and I think people who watch it understand where it’s coming from,” he said.
“There’s plenty of places to get them on plenty of channels on your television set,” Guggenheim said. “These are real events, these are talking to the advisers who are closest to him and it goes into the really tough decisions that he makes in a very deep and thorough way.”
The accomplishments highlighted in the film are among those voters surveyed by WSJ/NBC ranked as “most positive” from Obama’s term, including in order, the killing of Osama bin Laden, bringing troops home from Iraq, and preventing another economic depression.
John Lapp, a Democratic strategist who has worked on national political campaigns, said reminding loyal Democrats of those positives would unquestionably excite them, but would likely have a more limited impact on “persuadable voters.”
“Overall it’s much more of a mechanism to fire up your activists and have these house parties and play it at bars and movie theaters,” Lapp said. “I think the lasting impact of it is maybe not there. But elements of the document may return in future TV ads.”
The film streamed live on the Obama campaign’s YouTube channel and at dozens of field offices around the country, officials said. Axelrod and battleground states director Mitch Stewart held a national video-teleconference afterwards when they took questions from several participants on Twitter.