We're already seeing the sweeping declarations: The Obama honeymoon is over.
In her latest campaign documentary, HBO’s “Right America: Feeling Wronged,” which debuts on Monday, Alexandra Pelosi suggests a reason: The political divide that runs far deeper than D.C., where her mother is Speaker of the House.
She set out on the campaign trail following not the candidates, but their crowds. And Pelosi zeroed in not on the Obama boosters, but the zealots who backed the losing ticket.
Her trip to the other side was motivated by a feeling that — to give Sean Hannity some credence — the mainstream media was drinking the Obama Kool-Aid and woefully under-covering the McCain-Palin faithful. The result is a warped sense of the new president's support and a forgetfulness that more than 58 million voted for his rival.
“Do you think that people in Hollywood know that there are a large number of people driving around America with 'Nobama' bumper stickers on their car?” Pelosi asked rhetorically in a recent interview. “Or do they think that the whole world just loves Obama, because you turn on the news and you think that the whole world loves Obama.”
“My next door neighbor voted for McCain," she added. "My brother in law voted for McCain. There are plenty of people very close in my orbit. But I really felt like you saw these Obama supporters on TV, and you saw these huge crowds and these really happy supporters. I never really felt like you saw an enthiusiastic McCain supporters on TV, and Sarah Palin, for that matter. I do feel like there is an inherent bias in the media coverage, and I don't think it is some kind of conspiracy by the networks. It was just that Obama sold magazines, he sold newspapers.”
Pelosi first gained traction as a documentarian when, during the 2000 campaign, she armed herself with a small camcorder and produced “Journeys with George,” in which she caught a swaggering George W. Bush in (and embarassing) irreverent moments. Her followup, “Diary of a Political Tourist,” captured the circus-like atmosphere of the Democratic contenders seeking the party nomination in 2004.
But in the YouTube era of instant news and video, where the assumption is that every moment is being recorded and processed, she decided to forgo the candidates.
“I feel like the campaign film has been done,” she said. “Campaigns today are so staged and made for television, everything feels like a carefully orchestrated photo op. The candidates feel like cardboard cutouts. They are just delivering lines. It feels very made for Hollywood. When you go to campaign events now, it feels like you are walking on a set.”
In "Right America," the unscripted stars are the McCain-Palin followers, who are treated with zoo-like wonderment and perhaps a bit of sympathy. One declares, “There’s gays, and there are working people.” There's plenty of derisive mentions of “Barack Hussein Obama.” A Mississippi man says, “I ain’t voting for no n—–.”
My favorite moment comes when Pelosi asks one McCain-ite what Obama could do to win his respect. “Drop out of the race.”
Her focus so much on the unabashed racists and rednecks and retrograde folks, rather than the more measured class, is bound to draw complaint. But the carnival atmosphere of rallies was unavoidable, when candidates themselves have to tamp down the rhetoric. Pelosi was right up front during one of the more famous moments, when McCain himself has to reassure a woman at a Minnesota rally who declares of Obama, “He is an Arab.”
“I do think it is important to capture this moment in time,” Pelosi said. “There are always people who aren't going to be ready, who aren't ready for change.”
She made sure to include one moment of self-criticism, when a Mississippi man accuses her of traveling deep into the state just to capture someone using the “N” word.
“You know who said the most racist things I had heard during this campaign? The people who are living in my building in New York City," Pelosi said. "My neighbors would say some crazy things in the elevator. And these are well educated people in Greenwich Village. It is not just poor people in the South who use the “N” word. But I couldn't get the people in my building because they wouldn't go on camera. They aren't proud of saying racist things, whereas in the South, the guy at NASCAR who says, 'I am just not that partial to blacks. I am just not that forward. My daughter says I am backward.' That to me was beautiful. He was proud to be behind the times.”
In another instance, McCain-Palin diehards literally turn their backs as a victorious Obama calls for unity on election night, but Pelosi suggests that the media bears plenty of blame for continued divisions in the country, particularly a traveling press corps that operates in its own bubble. We see pundits in buffet lines and the perils of group think. In one shot there's McCain-Palin supporters expressing their disgust at Katie Couric; in another, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek is showering the CBS anchor with praise for the Palin interviews.
Pelosi has her own encounter with mutual forms of flattery. In the doc there's a scene where Hannity is speaking to a group of fans, and he spots her. His followers don't know whether to boo her or drive her away.
"That's Nancy Pelosi's daughter," he says to them. "She is a nice woman."
Pelosi takes it a step further.
“He is really a nice guy. I know that is shocking to anyone in Hollywood, but he is a nice guy," she said. "I had lots of conversations with him. But Sean Hannity is right when he says that their view isn't fully represented in the mainstream media. So if he is right about that, you have to think, 'Oh God, what else is he right about?' You want the media to do their job, so if you are a Democrat and you voted for a Democrat, you won fair and square. You took the high ground. You don't want the other side to say, 'Yeah, they won, but we got 58 million votes and we never got our side on TV.”
She added, “It is confusing to make sense of what happened in this election, and the media didn't help. I think they did a real disservice to both candidates, in a weird way. They put expectations so high on Obama. Obama didn’t put those expectations on himself. It is like he is the messiah or something. Everybody is expecting he is going to fix this whole country, and it is just heartbreaking.”