President Barack Obama's re-election campaign late Thursday released a Hollywood-caliber campaign film, 16 minutes and 56 seconds of Tom Hanks-narrated footage that trumpets Obama's achievements since taking office three years ago, highlights the challenges still ahead—and never once mentions America's longest war, the conflict in Afghanistan, by name.
The movie, directed by Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim, defends Obama's handling of the economic collapse of 2007-2008, highlights the auto industry bailout, puts the May 2011 raid in Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden at the center of his argument for another four years in the White House, lays out the immediate benefits of his landmark health care overhaul, and notes he fulfilled his promise to withdraw from Iraq.
But Obama's controversial decision to "surge" troops into Afghanistan, and his plan to withdraw American forces by the end of 2014, never appear in the film, which was released in full just days after an American soldier allegedly slaughtered 16 Afghan civilians and plunged already frayed relations into a new crisis.
The only Republican critic cited by name is Mitt Romney, whose November 2008 op-ed entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" appears at 5 minutes and 13 seconds into the film.
Former president Bill Clinton—who appears several times—defends the bailout, while former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel sticks the shiv a little further into Romney, describing his approach as a callous "let it (the auto industry) go … can't be saved …"
Republicans quickly assailed the film, with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus saying: "We don't need a Hollywood movie to know what the president accomplished over the past three years."
"Unfortunately Americans live Obama's accomplishments every day from higher gas prices, food prices, health care costs, unemployment and record debt. Hollywood may not be able to find anything wrong with Obama's first term but Americans literally can't afford to find out what another four years looks like under Obama," Priebus said.
Obama himself does not speak directly to the camera until 8 minutes and 49 seconds into the film, and does so to defend in poignant, personal terms the Affordable Care Act that Republicans scornfully dubbed "Obamacare."
"When my mom got cancer, she wasn't a wealthy woman, and it pretty much drained all her resources," the president says.
He later gives voice to uniquely presidential worries about the May 2011 raid to kill Osama bin Laden at his fortified compound in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad.
"A lot of people have asked, 'How did you feel when you first heard that it was bin Laden and he had been killed?' And the truth is I didn't have time for a lot of feelings at that point, because our guys were still in that compound, and it wasn't until I knew that they were across the border, they were safe, everybody was accounted for—including the dog—that I allowed some satisfaction," he says.
Vice President Joe Biden casts the go-ahead decision as far from the obvious choice. He relates the tense atmosphere in the White House's Situation Room as Obama asks his top advisers what he should do.
"And they say 'well, 49 percent chance he's there, 51. It's a close call, Mister President,'" says Biden. "If he was wrong, his presidency was done. Over."
"It was the ultimate test of leadership," says Hanks, who calls the raid "a victory for our nation."
The video also highlights Obama's kept promise to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq, showing him meeting with General David Petraeus in the Oval Office, before cutting to soldiers on patrol, and then the president telling returning troops, "Welcome home."
With the fragile U.S. economy—and stubbornly high unemployment still over 8 percent—weighing heavily on Obama's re-election efforts, the film casts the situation he inherited as a "horror movie" scenario that shocked the new president and his top aides at a meeting shortly after the 2008 election.
"All I was thinking at that moment was 'could we get a recount?'" quips senior campaign strategist David Axelrod.
The film revives the famous "bikini graph" that the president's supporters use to illustrate the turnaround in job creation since Obama took office.
At 13 minutes in, the film turns into something of a laundry list: It describes the benefits of Obama's health care law in some detail; highlights his commitment to improved fuel efficiency and renewable energy; cites achievements in education standards, student loan reform, and the Dodd-Frank rewrite of Wall Street rules; and trumpets his recess appointment of Richard Cordray—over stiff Republican objections—to head the consumer protection bureau created by the health care law.
It shows Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama, celebrating the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act aimed at erasing some gender-based disparities in pay. It lingers over the swearing-in ceremonies for Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
And it notes that the U.S. auto industry has recovered.
The final words are from Hanks, who urges voters to "look forward to the work still to be done."
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- President Barack Obama
- Osama bin Laden