October 27, 2004 -- “The Hunting of the President” is a political documentary about attempts by Republicans to overthrow the executive branch of the United States Government. It was an attempted coup d'état. In a way, it succeeded, even though the attempt to unseat President Bill Clinton through the impeachment process failed. The impeachment served to weaken Al Gore's campaign enough that George Bush was able to steal the 2000 election with his brother's help, and that of five Republican sympathizers on the Supreme Court.
This was one of the most unabashedly undemocratic campaigns ever waged by an American political party. The whole episode, from Whitewater onward, demonstrates just how fragile our democracy really is. This documentary unveils some of the workings of this well-funded movement to unseat Bill Clinton, starting even before he was elected.
The film includes a powerful interview with Susan McDougal, who went to prison rather than testify against Clinton. The film never really explains, however, why McDougal refused to testify before a grand jury. It does advance the argument that she refused to fabricate evidence against Clinton, but that doesn't explain refusal to testify. Interviews with several authors who wrote books about the Whitewater investigation and other related events round out the film, sprinkled liberally with news clips.
The investigation into Clinton started with Whitewater, an investigation which eventually dead-ended. It would have been more compelling if Bill and Hillary Clinton had actually gotten rich off the deal, but they lost money. The Whitewater investigation dried up. The film contends that the original Whitewater independent council was ready to shut the whole thing down, so he was replaced by the allegedly partisan lawyer Ken Starr, who, the movie contends, had an ax to grind against Clinton.
The rest is history. After years of investigation, at a cost to the taxpayers of some $50 million, Clinton was caught in a lie. He had an affair with another woman, Monica Lewinsky, and lied about it. One can't help but wonder how many of those self-righteous Republicans in Congress could survive politically if they were held to the same standard. I suspect more than a few of them have had affairs and lied about it to their wives. The Republicans, of course, said the whole affair was about Clinton's capacity to morally lead the nation. To paraphrase one noted politician in the film, “When they say say it is not about money, it is about money. When they say it isn't about politics, it is about politics.”
The Whitewater investigation, together with the Monica Lewinsky affair represented a huge waste of time and money, according to the film, and a huge waste of television time and newsprint when there were far more important things to cover, such as the rising threat of international terrorism. The well-financed campaign to get rid of Clinton, who had been kicking Republican butts around for years, is strikingly similar to the well-financed overthrow of the Gray Davis Democratic government in California a few years later.
The documentary also gives some insight into pack journalism. It talks about the interplay between tabloids, the Internet (remember Matt Drudge?), newspapers and network and cable news. I never could see what journalists found so fascinating about the whole Monica Lewinsky affair. More important things were happening in the world. The September 11 attacks were being planned, for one thing. I remember a guy I knew, a former newspaper reporter, used to send me these daily e-mails about the Lewinsky affair under the heading of “news you can use.” Indeed, these tabloid-like stories would have been very useful indeed, if only they had been written on toilet paper. The whole business was an example of partisan politics at its absolute, abysmal worst. It made a mockery of Congress, just as the 2000 election made a mockery of democracy.
This film is a good primer for anyone not familiar with the whole complicated Whitewater investigation. It also gives some insight into the deep hatred the far right always had for Clinton. I remember encountering this hatred from wing nuts here in Wyoming when Clinton was first elected. I remember their bitterness, hatred, and total lack of respect for Clinton, even before he took office. Curiously, these same people have great respect for President Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Maybe it is because their lies were about more important things, like smuggling weapons to Iran in order to finance South American revolutions, or phantom weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Those lies got thousands of people killed, while Clinton's lies hurt only himself and his family. I guess the moral of the far right is, “If you are going to lie, make it a big one.” The film is not all that convincing in its premise, and it never explains this virulent hatred of Clinton, but it is an important history lesson. This film rates a B.
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