The Campaign Film: A Look Back

Tonight, the Obama campaign will release a sort-of-anticipated 17-minute video, telling the story of the Obama administration's challenges and achievements in an effort to help frame the debate about how to understand its first term. I'll offer some comments on it tomorrow, but for now I thought I'd take the opportunity to assemble some of these videos from prior campaigns.

Presidential campaigns have aired ads since the 1952 campaign, and some of the early ones felt more like documentary films than ads. Here's a dynamite segment from a 1964 Barry Goldwater film, talking about the spread of smut and crime, full of sex shops and young people doing The Twist:

But the real ancestor of what the Obama campaign has put together is the 1984 convention video produced for Ronald Reagan. Titled "A New Beginning," it was interesting enough to produce at least one book of film criticism on it. Here's the first half:

And this is the second half (even though it's labeled Part 1), which contains a remix of what was probably the best speech Reagan delivered, at the 40th anniversary of D-Day (it's amazing to think that that speech was written by Peggy Noonan, who is today produces some of the most inane opinion columns ever seen). In the voice-over, Reagan says about the veterans, "Where do we find them? Where do we find such men? The answer came almost as quickly as I'd asked the question. Where we've always found them in this country. On the farms, the shops, the stores and the offices. They just are the product of the freest society the world has ever known."

Then comes 1992, when the Clinton campaign produces "The Man From Hope." Watching it today is a reminder of just how good Bill Clinton was. That man could sell sand to a camel. George H.W. Bush never had a chance. (This video cuts off a few minutes before the end; here's the last part).

The next really notable one has to be "The Pitch," from George W. Bush's 2004 convention. The true measure of George W. Bush's heroism can only be understood through the fact that he threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium after September 11. You think some Democrat could have done that? Ha!

Just listen to Fred Thompson intone, in a voice coming to us through a thousand cigars, how "No matter what, you go to the mound, you find the plate, and you throw. And you become who you are." Cue crowd chanting "USA! USA!"

I'm guessing the Obama film will be as good as any of these. That isn't to say that the few million hits it gets on YouTube will in an of itself have some kind of dramatic effect on the race. But unlike a film shown at a convention, which could get tens of millions of viewers on TV all at the same moment, the voters aren't really the target. Instead, this is the first part of a months-long effort to drum a particular narrative into the minds of reporters, party activists, and other opinion leaders.

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