*PBS’s Frontline enters the crowded field of Obama specials this week with a four hour, two-night drilling into the political partisanship and racially-charged opposition that challenged his presidency, literally from day one.
“Divided States of America” (Jan 17 and 18; 9 p.m. EST) puts Frontline’s fine-tooth comb through the haters’ greatest hits: Sarah Palin’s GOP convention speech, how her populist seeds sprouted the Tea Party; how the Tea Party and their anti-establishment, racially-charged rhetoric was amplified by right-wing radio and Fox News, how that populist rage begat Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” moment, which begat Donald Trump’s exploitation of the Birther movement…and so on and so on.
You can always count on Frontline to go beyond a mere front row seat to its subject matter. “Divided’s” producer, director, and writer Michael Kirk, takes us into the rooms where it happened. For example, remember when Sen. John McCain stopped his presidential campaign to deal with the crippling financial crisis? A move many on the left looked upon as his attempt to look presidential? Well Frontline features interviews with several people from both sides of the aisle who were in that meeting, all of whom say that it was Sen. Obama who looked presidential.
“Obama took charge, had authority. McCain had no plan, no strategy. I don’t think he understood what was happening, or had a plan for what he wanted to accomplish,” recalled President Bush’s speechwriter, Matt Latimer.
“Divided” also takes us inside the meeting on President Obama’s Inauguration Day, when a handful of Republicans decided to oppose all of President Obama’s policies from day one.
Another significant moment covered is President Obama’s decision not to punish the banks who single-handedly caused the subprime mortgage crisis, a move that sparked anger across party lines and led directly to CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli’s infamous on-air anti-Obama rant from the floor of the NYSE…the rant that became a rallying cry for the Tea Party.
This is just night one.
Night two covers the birther movement, the government shutdown over the debt ceiling, the GOP’s purge of establishment Republicans, Obama’s executive orders and the partisanship that infected proposed gun legislation in the wake of Newtown.
A significant part of night two also explores the racial tensions in America that exploded with the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown killings, the pressure from African Americans for Obama to acknowledge the racism behind it, and the reaction of conservatives who accused POTUS of further dividing the country when he finally did so.
As television networks continue to offer retrospectives on the Obama presidency during his final days in office, “Divided” stands apart in its sheer thoroughness – not as a comprehensive look at the entire Obama presidency, but rather a focused exploration of the divisiveness in this country, including the racial ooze that seeped from behind closed doors into the broad light of day during Obama’s time in office, ultimately leading to the election of Donald Trump.