Journeys with George and Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (review)


Of all the antiwar slogans being bandied about these days, I think my favorite is “Regime change begins at home.”

There you go: I’m not a fan of Bush II. Hardly a surprise, I guess, seeing as how I’m one of those Blue-state namby-pamby liberal East Coast intellectual types. So I’m completely and unashamedly biased when it comes to films like Journeys with George — an illuminating travelogue of Bush’s 2000 campaign trail — Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, an angry look at hanging chads, Katherine Harris, and the general fiasco in Florida.

If you want fair and balanced reporting, there’s always Fox News Channel.

Alexandra Pelosi — NBC news producer and, aha, daughter of Democratic congresswoman Nancy Pelosi — was among the press corps that hit the road with the Bush presidential campaign, from before the Republican primaries to the morning after Election Day. She was there to support NBC’s onscreen correspondent, but for her own amusement, she carried a digital camcorder around and shot a lot of off-the-cuff video of the press goofing off and, more illuminating, of the candidate himself. This is her home movie of her year with Bush.

Seeing this film before the debacle of the 2000 election might have been a shocking experience. Now, in the wake of Bush’s embarrassing performance as unelected leader of the free world, it’s a depressing confirmation of everything those of us who don’t object to the description “unelected” have suspected all along: George W. Bush is an incurious, uncharismatic, overgrown frat boy with a mean streak a mile wide. Whether of all the press corps he singled Pelosi out in his derision is impossible to tell from this film, but there’s barely a moment when he’s in her viewfinder when he isn’t smirking and pretending to hide his disdain for her, and especially for her only mildly tough policy questions, with attempts at humor. That he doesn’t even bother to disguise his maliciousness with the damn camera right on him speaks to either his stupidity or his arrogance, or maybe both.

As bad as the portrait of Bush is, the disdain for the American public the campaign as a whole exudes is worse. And, Pelosi readily demonstrates, the modern American media has apparently abandoned its job as watchdog. For no matter what their own personal biases are, they are either unwilling or unable to tell a real story, so spun and managed and plastic and phony is the candidate the campaign is presenting, and so averse is the candidate to discussing anything even remotely important, either at campaign stops or with the reporters in tow. And the reporters, they themselves readily admit, are afraid to risk their access to the candidate and so let themselves be cowed into submission. The blatant illustration of that fact alone is worth the price of admission — if you need more reason to doubt the merit of the American news organizations, here it is.

And precisely what would those reporters miss if they were kicked off the bus? Not much. Just a baloney-and-cheese-and-Cheetos man — that’s his favorite lunch — talking to American citizens at late-night campaign stops who have no idea why they’ve even come out to support Bush, and are willing to say as much on camera. It’s enough to make you wonder if we didn’t get the president we deserved….

…Until you see Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, and get mad all over again. This documentary comes from producers who are basically a bunch of troublemakers who’ve made films about Enron and Waco and edited books about the attack on civil liberties since 9/11. So you can imagine their take on what went on in Florida in November and December of 2000. They’re not shrugging it off, and they’re not saying Get over it.

They’re preaching to the choir, but what the hell. This is an infuriating summation of the problems in Florida that were, at best, the result of sheer incompetence and systemic petty corruption for which no one has accepted (or been forced to accept) blame, and at worst, blatant and intentional criminal and perhaps even treasonous acts of the most obscene order.

You’d think that the state officials accused here of illegally turning registered voters away from the polls would care to respond. You’d think that someone from the Florida governor’s office would like to dispute the here apparently proven fact that thousands of legitimate voters were defamed as convicted felons — and denied their votes — thousands of mostly black people, who mostly vote Democrat. But they get up and walk off camera when the questioning gets beyond “Hello,” or they sputter incoherently in response to questions. What are we supposed to think?

Bush supporters would have us think, likely, that this is a one-sided presentation that gives no voice to other points of view. But the evidence here seems damning that, as the film baldly states, the fix was in in Florida. Jeb Bush is on record as saying on his campaign trail that he would do “probably nothing” for black constituents. Voter irregularities and police intimidation at the polls — like we’re living in the Jim Crow 1950s — is documented. The conflicts of interest of those intimately involved in eventually seeing Bush declared president appear indisputable: Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the chief elections officer, was also cochair of Bush for President in Florida; the Supreme Court justices who sided with the Bush campaign’s disregard for state law has personal stakes in his winning.

And in case you’re wondering, Gore isn’t let off the hook, either — he gets lumped with a small share of the blame, for not pushing hard enough to see justice done. It’s in inequities of the system, the ease with which the system can be manipulated, and the illusions of impartiality behind those manipulations that the film rails against.

It’s pretty convincing to me… but then, I was already convinced. Unprecedented is unlikely to change any minds, particularly when this argument is presented calmly and rationally and with a willingness to be refuted — if only anyone is both willing and able to refute it — and that cannot hope to compete in our media environment today, when only antagonistic shouts are heard.

Journeys with George
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics
not rated
official site | IMDB

Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election
viewed at home on a small screen
not rated
official site | IMDB

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