Hillary's America, and ours

It was an unusually hot and humid Sunday in the Southland.  So when a friend called and suggested I accompany her to see the latest Dinesh D’Souza film, Hillary’s America, at an air-conditioned theater complex in a nearby town, I jumped at the chance.

The parking lot was filled with moviegoers’ cars.  But the theater in which the D’Souza film was playing was practically empty.  In the sea of seats, there were maybe a dozen people, the youngest of whom were a middle-aged couple.  One might say there were more walkers than runners in that theater, an observation that unfortunately mirrors a sad fact of life – or possibly death for the GOP.

Movie trailers aired on TV suggest that this D’Souza movie ranks among the all-time popular documentaries.  But it obviously didn’t garner that kind of rating in the liberal stronghold suburbs of Los Angeles.  I’ve heard tales of people showing up to see it only to be told that the numbers of viewers hadn’t been sufficient, so the film was no longer being shown.

Hillary’s America was interesting and informative, if overly long.  Much of the narrative was spent historically debunking the claims of the Democrats as the party of freedom, equality, opportunity, and hope.  The second part of the documentary chronicled the treacherous trajectory carved by Bill and Hillary Clinton in the course of their long years in public office and in private life.  Having been in the audience at Hillary Rodham’s graduation from Wellesley, I relived that infuriating incident in which she, as class representative, rudely dissed the commencement speaker, Edward Brooke a self-made man, war hero, and the first black popularly elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction days.

Augmenting Hillary’s fledgling years was the anticipated recitation of the Clintons’ sins, a rehash of abuses across time, from State House to White House to secretary of state.  But despite the hefty revelations, there was nothing in this film I had not seen or heard of before.

And that, my friends, is the problem.

On that sweltering July weekend, the other theaters in the cinema complex were crawling with eager patrons.  Families streamed in from the heat and paid to see films of action, animation, horror, fantasy, and (for the most part) violence.  But they weren’t there to see what Dinesh D’Souza had to say about our political system in his ballyhooed documentary.  That’s not within their sphere of entertainment.  

Still, it’s an election year, and Republicans are exhibiting the irresistible penchant to preach to the choir.  Never mind that the only people who care deeply about politics have pretty much made up their minds.  Films like those D’Souza produces end up essentially reinforcing the fury in already angry viewers.  Its primary intention, of course, is “educational”: to open the eyes of those who will not see.  But folks in that category are not even going to see it.  And any hard and fast liberal is not going to consider it anything more than the usual conservative propaganda.  So for all of the fired up Republicans who went to the Dinesh movie and found themselves thinking, “Wait’ll Americans get a load of this!,” the wait may be a lot longer than you anticipated.

This applies to all the politically partisan stuff – factual or otherwise that goes viral on the internet.  Viewers who appreciate i.e., agree with an e-mail or a posted article will dutifully pass it along to their usual “list” of think-alikes.  If, by some regrettable chance, the sentiment is forwarded to friends or relations who happen to politically disagree, the response will more likely to be a charge of unfairness than a changed mind.

On one thing, however, we all seem to agree: the ad nauseam salvos launched from both sides of this presidential campaign will be vicious, provocative, and unrelenting.  Nobody need pay for a ticket to have them available 24/7.  In fact, at some point, a disgusted electorate may be willing to pay not to see them.  As an example of things to come, a single Hillary PAC has 100 million dollars ready to disseminate in the slime of the century.  And she talked in her acceptance speech about ridding political campaigns of money!

The irony is that Americans have indicated time and again their extreme distaste for attack ads.  Yet the political gurus who run campaigns must find them effective or else they both the ads and their creators would disappear in a hurry.  Predictably, the issues deciding America’s future will be reduced to sound bites and platitudes.  More than ever, substantive national concerns will be hijacked by personal attacks whose intention is to portray either of the two divisive candidates as unfit for the highest office in the land.

Not that there haven’t been plenty of rough-and-tumble campaigns in America’s past.  What makes this election year different is the high negative ratings of both candidates.  The object of the Mad Ave mavens will be to drive them even higher for the opposition.  On the day after the election, half of an exhausted America will be instantly disappointed.  The other half may have to wait a while to experience the same feeling.