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February 24, 2009
On the Trail With
"What do McCain voters have in common?"
"We all hate the same things"
- Exchange from Alexandra Pelosi's documentary, "Right America Feeling
In November 2004, in the days after George W. Bush was re-elected to a
second term, the New York Times ran a story in which its reporter
roamed the Upper West Side and other liberal-friendly parts of Manhattan
and gauged reactions from disappointed Democrats.
The result read like a conservative's best parody of elite liberal
condescension. One interviewee called Manhattan "an island off the coast
of Europe." Various people blamed those stupid yokels in the heartland.
And they mostly came across as the overeducated, elitist
cocktail-party-going twits that Fox News would like us to believe
comprise the entirety of the Democratic Party.
I wrote at the time that the opposite equivalent would be if John Kerry
had won, and a newspaper had interviewed people at a NASCAR race, who
blamed the win on the “n-----s, fags, and Jews,” before excusing
themselves to go shoot beer cans off each other's heads.
Now, four years later, we have something like that. Alexandra Pelosi,
daughter of the House Speaker, has directed an HBO documentary called
Right America, Feeling Wrong, which debuted last week and takes a
look at the raging id of the Republican base in the age of Barack Obama.
Pelosi indeed goes to a NASCAR race, at which self-described rednecks
cheerfully admit that they're not ready for a black president, while
assailing immigrants and political correctness. "I'm not too partial to
blacks," one racegoer says, before telling his female interviewer that
"if it were up to me, you couldn't vote." And while there's no shooting
beer cans, her camera does catch several Bud Light cans strung together,
with the description "Redneck Windchimes."
Pelosi's documentary is like a 45-minute version of those YouTube clips
that circulated during the campaign of large groups of McCain-Palin
rally-goers screaming about Obama the Muslim. But lest you consider the
filmmaker a left-wing scion looking to do her mother's dirty work,
consider that she's previously directed sympathetic portraits of Bush
(2001's Journeys With George) and Ted Haggard (last month's
The Trials of Ted Haggard.)
In a title card at the beginning, Pelosi cautions that those interviewed
are "not representative of the Republican Party," just voices from the
trail. But if those making racist, hateful or counterfactual statements
about the now-president are "just a few bad apples," it appears the
director had a whole lot of rotten ones to choose from. This documentary
makes it hard to ever again take seriously Republican complaints about
the "angry left."
Throughout the film, Barack Obama is called a Muslim, a terrorist,
Hitler, the anti-Christ and a Marxist, on top of various racial slurs.
We're told that after being sworn in (on the Koran, of course), Obama
will "tear off his mask" to reveal Osama Bin Laden. January 20 came and
went, of course, without that happening, but raise your hand if you've
never heard any of these charges before. My personal favorite moment is
the guy wearing a homemade "Say No to Socialism" t-shirt (with
"socialism" spelled wrong), who is then unable to provide a definition
of the word.
We also get the argument, which was largely adopted by the McCain
campaign, that people from a certain demographic – white, working class,
rural, Middle America – are "real" Americans, or at least more real than
those of other parts of the country. Meanwhile, several of the states
where this was said – notably Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana – ended up
going for the Democrat.
Yes, I can hear the response already, whether you've seen the film or
not. "The left is worse!" "They were even meaner to Bush." And yes,
there were always left-wing crazies throwing unsubstantiated charges and
accusations at Obama's predecessor, and I never was OK with the
Bush-Hitler stuff or any of that nonsense.
The differences, though, are three: One, the crazy anti-Bush movement
was always centered in the permanent-radical portion of the far-left
(the 9/11 Truth movement, etc.) that has very little to do with the
Democratic establishment. I don't remember ever seeing that sort of
thing, say, at John Kerry rallies. Two, vociferous opposition to Bush
was generally based on stuff he had actually done, as opposed to
far-flung, largely bogus theories about what he might do. And three,
those arguing that Bush was an all-time horrible president . . . were
In a democracy, there's always a chance that yes, the party you don't
like will win sometimes. As Right America Feeling Wrong makes
clear, some people have more of a problem coming to terms with that fact
than others, whether it's the self-described sophisticates of the 2004
Upper West Side, or the self-described rednecks of the 2008 NASCAR
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