The union hall for UAW Local 400 in Sterling Heights, Mich. was packed with supporters to watch the Obama campaign's 17-minute re-election movie, The Road We've Traveled, which debuted Thursday night at more than 300 campaign-organized watch parties across Michigan and the country. Complete with popcorn and soda pop, the venue seemed energized with a sense that this movie would illustrate once and for all that Obama is a much stronger and effective leader than Republicans would have you believe.
I was eager to see how this movie would address the concerns conservatives have expressed about Obama's presidency. I wondered why it was important to devote time and energy covering his accomplishments in a short film like this when it should be apparent to those who pay attention to national events. After viewing the movie, I realized that, for those who don't like Obama, this movie might come off as self-indulgent, no matter how factual the contents may be. But for Obama supporters, the film confirms why they have so much faith in him. This movie answers questions that those on the fence may have, and it does so with precision, depicting the President, not as a politician, but as a decisive problem-solver and tactician who leads the nation with strength and courage.
Produced by Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim, The Road We've Traveled clearly exposes the raw courage and determination behind the many difficult decisions the President faced as he took on the challenge of leading the nation out of financial disaster in 2008. It poetically captures Obama in still pictures, in deep thought, his face often expressing the graveness of the decisions he faced.
The film is narrated by Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks, who asks, "How do we understand this president and his time in office?" He asks viewers not to judge Obama by today's headlines alone, but to consider "what we, as a country, have been through."
Hanks leads the audience through Obama's decision-making process from day one, and effectively exposes how dire the crisis was and how seriously Obama worked to avert catastrophe. The film gives a behind-the-scenes look at the economic stimulus bill, the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, health care reform, and the Navy Seal team's raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Interviews with former President Clinton and those who have worked for Obama discuss the decision-making process and effectiveness of the President's choices.
At one point, it was chilling to hear Clinton say the nation had "no earthly idea" what would have happened if Obama had let GM and Chrysler fail; the domino effect of job losses could have completed devastated the Midwest's middle class. The film shows photos of the headlines quoting Mitt Romney: "Let them go bankrupt!" As someone who once lived in Detroit and whose family has worked in the auto industry, I can say that Romney's infamous mantra echoes in my mind as a fearful reminder how close we came to complete financial meltdown in Michigan.
The movie depicts Obama's top economic advisers as "stunned" early on during the transition when they find out just how bad the recession would be and how long it might last, before the auto industry bailout. Former White House adviser David Axelrod, who is now a top advisor to the reelection campaign, says watching the slides depicting the economic crisis was like "a horror movie." The news was so upsetting that Axelrod jokes he "wanted a recount."
Former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel says the biggest question during the transition was: "Which is first, which is second, which is third, which is fourth, which is fifth?" To which Obama replied, "We'll do all of it." It illustrates that Obama has confronted "the toughest choices of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt," Hanks says.
Health care reform was another obstacle Obama faced; how to provide a solution to a decades-old problem that healthcare costs continue to rise and people can no longer afford it? Millions of people with cancer often faced the reality that they might have to go bankrupt after being dropped by their insurance. Obama's own mother faced a similar challenge as she fought cancer, and it served as an impetus for him to create a system to protect the countless patients who need protection, Hanks says. He gave the gloomy statistics and explained why something had to be done now, instead of waiting. It's something the movie effectively portrays; that Obama takes decisive action when it's most needed. Though Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act did fuel a voter backlash that led to the tremendous losses for Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, the outcome is that 2 million formerly uninsured young people are now insured and families who once faced financial ruin can now get treatment without worry. All the while, Obama faced "fierce opposition" that was "hostile to compromise," Hanks says, while images of Tea Party Rallies appear on the screen.
And then there was the bin Laden raid. Vice President Joe Biden says he knew Obama was "all alone. If he was wrong, his presidency was done. Over."
Chilling words. It was depicted as a difficult moment in the Presidency and illustrates how Obama was responsible for the raid. Clinton calls the bin Laden decision "the ultimate test of leadership" and "a victory for our nation." He comments that Obama's decision in the face of "inconclusive intelligence" on bin Laden's whereabouts was "the harder and more honorable path." He says that after the raid, he thought, "I hope that's the call I would have made."
In the conclusion, the movie says to those still on the fence to ask themselves a question before they vote in November: Has Obama kept the promises he made during his 2008 campaign? And to consider what he's accomplished so far: from ending the Iraq war, to repealing "don't ask, don't tell," to providing pay equity for women, health care reform, and financial/credit reform; he's kept a lot of promises. As for the challenges ahead, Hanks remarks, "Let's remember how far we've come and look forward to work still to be done."
When the lights came on again in the union hall, viewers were asked what struck them most about the film. Retiree Ewaynia Carrington said healthcare reform was important to her, since her son could now remain under her insurance. Others called out "He ended the war in Iraq!"
"As a firefighter, I'm in middle class homes everyday," said Henry Yanez, a Democratic candidate for Michigan State Representative for District 25. "I've seen how this economy affects those families. It's refreshing to have a politician, a leader like President Obama, that went against popular political opinion and had the courage to put working families first, saving not only the auto industry and our manufacturing base, but the people and small businesses that depend on this important sector and our national economy."
Clearly, the film successfully energized supporters to get out there and promote Barack Obama's re-election. It remains to be seen how it will affect voters at the polls in November.