Triumph 'By The People'


POSTED: Sunday, October 25, 2009

Every word out of President Barack Obama's mouth and everything said about him is parsed relentlessly these days, and that will likely include the title of this HBO documentary—“;By the People: The Election of Barack Obama.”;

“;Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,”; Abraham Lincoln wrote in the Gettysburg Address, and Lincoln's grounded populism, tempered with practical idealism, has been an obvious inspiration to the Hawaii-Chicago politician. “;By the people”; could also mean the masses of voters who turned out nearly a year ago to change the course of the nation. The subtext of the HBO documentary is more focused, however: “;By the People”; refers here to the many hands that worked together, tirelessly, to help elect the relatively untested young senator to the highest office in the land.

The film—which will have its free premiere at the Waikiki Shell at 7 p.m. Thursday in advance of its Election Day broadcast Nov. 3—is about them, not about Barack Obama. Although the candidate appears constantly, there is nothing here that will surprise you, except maybe his good-humored delight in the gamesmanship of politics, which he approaches as sport. Obama comes across as a smart, canny, intellectually nimble fellow who acts more like a team leader rather than a boss.





        » What: HBO documentary “;By the People: The Election of Barack Obama”;

» Place: Waikiki Shell


» When: 7 p.m. Thursday; doors open at 5:30 p.m.


» Admission: Free


» Call: (888) 560-5856




The Obamaniacs are another matter. The sheer, numbing uphill battle that became the last presidential campaign is relived here, all the highs and lows, and played out here in back rooms, with folks watching computers and chatting on cell phones in hotel hallways. (It's always interesting to see that top political leaders don't know any more than we do on election nights.)

They range from old pros like David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs to intensely driven young folk like Ronnie Cho, an Iowa organizer who regularly updates his mother via cell phone, to a 9-year-old kid cold-calling constituents (and doing well at it).

THERE IS AN air of desperation around their particular drive, likely due to the realization that this election was a real chance to alter the course of a country that had gotten off the rails. They are up against not just another solid candidate in Hillary Clinton, but the peculiarly Republican tactic of negative dissembly. The Bush-Cheney regime probably created more instant Democrats than any other administration in history, and Obama here shows a keen self-awareness when he remarks that he's running primarily because he realizes what a candidate “;like him”; would mean to a new generation of voters.

Axelrod knows it, too. He points out that “;the kids”; would make the difference in a tight race. Just like the kids, he's overcome by emotion when Obama wins the election. It's like America has been pulled back from the brink, and all because of the peaceful transition of power that occurs every election.

America is riding high in the eyes of the world right now, and it's credited to Obama's election—but it's really because Americans were able to change their course by democratic will, and that's still a rare and wonderful thing.

Filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams actually began tailing Obama when he was a junior senator, and there's some early footage before his hair turned gray. Because they had his trust, the footage here is very much on the “;inside”; of the campaign, although there won't be any startling revelations. These are smart people who work hard. No surprise.

There's a brief Hawaii interlude in which folks like Rep. Neil Abercrombie give some background on Obama's roots. It all feels disconnected, somehow, with the bright sunlight and colors and images of where Obama used to live. It's a lifetime ago, and the new reality is artificial lights, cell phones, on-the-go transportation and politico-nerds hunched over their laptops.

It's a new age, kids. Try to get a good night's sleep before changing the world.