Frontline: The Choice 2008

After getting several recommendations from bloggers I trust, I took some time out yesterday to watch Frontline’s The Choice 2008, a PBS documentary about the two major candidates for president (the program is available online), and like Agnes, I think this is a great example of the value of public broadcasting.  The Choice 2008 provides an excellent overview of the two candidates’ personal stories and contextualizes their campaigns in these histories, while paying special attention to how the two candidates won their parties’ nominations.  The film proceeds in part through the use of interviews with close associates of the two candidates, and while the filmmakers have clearly been assembling material for months, The Choice remains fresh and timely.

I’ll also add that Agnes is right that the documentary humanizes both candidates in a way that seems absolutely vital given the extent of the name-calling and negative campaigning that has taken place in the final weeks of the campaign.  While not shying away from McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five scandal, the film serves as a reminder that McCain has served his country in a variety of ways throughout his long career.  And I’d like to imagine that a conservative viewer would be able to appreciate Obama’s personal journey after seeing this film.

There are some compelling images in the film.  Shots of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, clearly enraptured by Obama’s famous 2004 convention speech, take on a new meaning after their protracted primary campaign.  The early struggles on McCain in Iowa and New Hampshire in January 2008 are a stark reminder of the fact that he came very close to dropping out of the race.  We also learn quite a bit about Obama’s work in Chicago, where he served as a community organizer and had to fight to gain the respect and trust of some of the locals who originally perceived him as an outsider.

Michael Rose also has an excellent review essay that explains some of the challenges the filmmakers faced in light of the extended Democratic primary, in which it was unclear whether Obama or Clinton would secure the nomination, as well as a useful overview of some of the choices made by the film’s executive producer Michael Kirk, who chose, for example, not to interview the two candidates themselves, in part because the candidates are often more concerned about protecting their image.  Overall, The Choice belongs in any archive that will help us make sense of what seems like the longest, loudest (and is certainly the most expensive) presidential campaign in U.S. history.

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