‘The Hope and the Change’: New Citizens United Movie Blasts Obama
Obama of 2008, the inspiring candidate whose soaring rhetoric transfixed
a nation, is about to reemerge in a film meant to alter the course of
the current campaign. The Obama of four years ago will again be seen at
the height of his powers, transporting vast throngs of supporters to a
promised land blessed by a new kind of politics.
The movie’s creators do not wish the president well.
The film is a product of Citizens United,
the conservative advocacy group whose landmark 2010 Supreme Court
victory over the Federal Elections Commission denuded campaign-finance
reform, earned an unprecedented State of the Union rebuke from Obama,
and gave rise to the dominant role of super PACs in national politics.
Those were unexpected results; what Citizens United really wanted when
it took the FEC to court was to make movies.
David Bossie, the group’s president, had been impressed by Michael Moore’s 2004 anti-Bush polemic, Fahrenheit 911—not
only by the film’s commercial success, but by the impact of the
advertising campaign promoting the film. Bossie considered Moore’s ads
by far the best political spots of the 2004 cycle, and he decided to
transform Citizens United into a political production company. He’d make
conservative films targeting liberal candidates, perhaps making some
money through the sale of DVDs. But his larger purpose was to use the
advertisements for his films as political weapons, exempt (he hoped)
from the restrictions of campaign-finance laws because they were in
support of a commercial product.
His first big effort was Hillary: The Movie,
a frontal assault on the character and alleged dark ambitions of the
former first lady—who, Bossie assumed, would be the 2008 Democratic
presidential nominee. Hillary was ready for its rollout just as
the Democratic primary season heated up, but the FEC and a federal
court declared that the film and its ads (one of which featured
political consultant Dick Morris proclaiming “Hillary is the closest
thing we have in America to a European socialist”) were clearly
“electioneering communications,” and thus banned from airing near the
date of a primary election. Bossie appealed, and, two years later, the
John Roberts court gave him a victory.
The fruit of that triumph is The Hope and the Change,
an hour-long film that will make its premiere at a screening next week
at the Republican National Convention, complete with a planned
introduction by one of the convention’s star speakers—perhaps keynoter Chris Christie.
The film will go into theatrical release in selected cities in
September, and, if all proceeds according to plan, will play several
dozen times on a cable channel right up to election day.
Cineastes will recognize echoes of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda masterwork, Triumph of the Will. The reference, Bossie says, was intentional. “There are no accidents in this film,” he says.
The Hope and the Change is a more sophisticated and potentially potent effort than the Hillary
project was. Instead of featuring strident partisan voices such as
Morris or Ann Coulter, the cast of 40 is composed entirely of registered
Democrats and independents who voted for Obama in 2008. This reflects a
political premise shared by Bossie and Stephen K. Bannon, the film’s
director—that the 2012 election will be decided by that group of voters
in key states whose enthusiasm for Obama has descended toward
film’s early production stage, reflecting the true nature of the
project, involved an ambitious political operation in dozens of key
counties in seven swing states. Bossie used market research firms to
identify their pool of Obama voters, and then conducted focus group
sessions to cull the group down to those who would appear in the film.
He contracted with Pat Caddell, the Democratic pollster and adviser to
former president Jimmy Carter, who had been researching the very group
Bannon and Bossie were interested in, to design the sessions.
the film’s opening segment, a haunting musical strain plays as Obama’s
campaign plane (dubbed “Change”) is seen descending through the clouds
over Denver, interspersed with vast crowd scenes of breathlessly
expectant supporters. Bits of Obama’s cosmic rhetoric (“this was the
moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to
heal”) are intercut with close-ups of faces twisted in ecstatic zeal,
culminating in Obama’s memorable line, “We are the ones we have been
The music is not Wagner, but cineastes will recognize echoes of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi-propaganda masterwork, Triumph of the Will. The reference, Bossie says, was intentional. “There are no accidents in this film,” he says.
the director, says he did not intend to associate Obama with Hitler.
“Absolutely not, that’s ridiculous,” he says. “The reason I did it was
because everybody in the film, to a person, was talking about the
overwhelming nature of this catharsis they experienced. And I just said,
Hey, let’s structure it like this, and see how it plays. And it plays.”
before Bannon’s camera, the film’s subjects recall, in dreamy language,
their memories of those hopeful moments of the Obama movement.
“Everyone was just so excited for this, this savior of our nation,” says
one woman. A young mother recalls, “It was just that hope, that spirit,
it was just undeniable, the feeling you got watching him win, because
you thought it was just this wind of change coming in and all of these
things were going to be at least looked at if not done, taken care of
for our country.”
the course of the film, the subjects tell how their hope turned to
disappointment, as the economy floundered and Obama focused on
health-care reform and presided over an explosion in government
spending. “It actually is a feeling that I would best describe as
resentment,” said one of the disillusioned.
I looked at that film, I understand why Chicago”—the Obama
campaign—“never goes back to reminding people what they felt in 2008,”
says Caddell. “Politically, this speaks to what really is the Obama
says he sees his movie as “a referendum film,” which, of course, neatly
fits the election framework that the Romney camp is hoping for.
Advertising spots are already being cut, and will serve the duel purpose
of promoting the film and signaling to voters hesitant about an Obama
reelection that they are not alone.
film’s rollout will begin with an hour-long special on Fox News this
Friday, hosted by Sean Hannity. But Bossie says that Fox viewers are not
the targeted audience. He says that PBS is planning to broadcast a
panel discussion on the film’s subject—disillusioned Obama voters—and
that his ad money (the film’s production and promotion cost is about $5
million) will be spent at MSNBC and CNN. “I’m not gonna preach to the
choir with this film,” he says. “And you get a lot bigger bang for your
buck on CNN and MSNBC—Fox is expensive.”
Peter J. Boyer joined Newsweek/Daily Beast after spending 18
years as a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he wrote on a wide
range of subjects, including politics, the military, religion, and
sports. Before joining The New Yorker, Boyer was a reporter for the Los
Angeles Times and the New York Times, a contributing editor at Vanity
Fair, and a television critic for National Public Radio’s “Morning
Edition.” As a correspondent on the documentary series,
Frontline, he won a George Foster Peabody Award, an Emmy, and
consecutive Writers Guild Awards for his reporting. Boyer’s New Yorker
articles have been included in the anthologies
The Best American Political Writing,
Best American Science Writing,
Best American Spiritual Writing and
Best American Crime Writing. He is at work on a book about American evangelism.
For inquiries, please contact The Daily Beast at email@example.com.
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