Dan Kois is a contributing writer at New York and Vulture.
Previously on "Barack Obama Political Message": Amber waves of grain! And: "For the past twenty months, I've traveled the length of this country." Barack's met a lot of real Americans over these past twenty months. These ... are their stories. Chung-chung.
What is "Barack Obama Political Message," exactly? Is it a campaign ad? Is it a mini-documentary? Is it an outrage, as the Republicans would have you believe, or a golden opportunity for Barack Obama to look presidential? The answer, from a TV viewer's standpoint, is that "BOPM" might be an effective political ad, but it made for a pretty unsatisfying reality show.
"I still see optimism and hope," Barack tells us from a wood-paneled and cozy office, the Oval Office as Jerry Brown would've redecorated it. (Obama's had a thing for faux-presidential sets since his "Monday Night Football" intro back in December '06.) But man, I don't know where he sees any reason for hope. From Ford employees who just lost their jobs, to tire retreaders with torn ACLs, to widows working double shifts, to retirees whose pensions have been cut 80 percent, it sure seems like everyone Obama sees is doing awfully badly. What a downer! Presenting all these tales of woe makes the first half of "BOPM" seem like the start of a tear-jerking "Oprah," or "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." But though it dips into the reality-TV playbook--soft focus, touching music, voice-overs, shots of people driving cars--"BOPM" is pretty anticlimactic: Oprah doesn't come roaring through tossing around $1000 bills, and Ty Pennington isn't fixing the widow’s house. Instead, all anyone gets is a bunch of promises from Barack Obama.
I felt deflated when I realized that I wasn't going to get to see the evening's breakout star--retired B&O Railroad man Larry Stewart of Sardinia, Ohio, who's 72 years old, built that floor you're standing on, and still plays a mean blues guitar in his living room--get the health insurance he and his wife Juanita so richly deserve. I wasn't even going to get to see them win a suitcase full of money or lose weight or play guitar before a panel of judges or anything. Couldn't Obama have at least come to Sardinia and bought them a beer? Or maybe a different beverage, if alcohol interacts poorly with one of Juanita's twelve daily arthritis medications?
On "Barack Obama Political Message," the only people who seem like they have a reason to smile are the various swing-state governors and senators (and Google's CEO) who talk about what a champ Barack is. These testimonials are a little bit fawning and make me think that maybe America's swing-state governors and senators have been having boyfriend trouble. "This guy is special," says New Mexico's Bill Richardson. "He's a good, decent man ... a man that can heal this country. There's very unusual, good, positive sides to this man." If I had to boil this message down to one sentence, it would be, "This guy's gonna be different than the last ones, Mom."
Indeed, by the end of "BOPM," I've come to view Barack Obama as something of the perfect fianc