Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Oliver Stone has made some of the best movies of the past three decades. With Salvador, Platoon, and Wall Street, he helped shape the cultural history of the 1970s and 1980s. Now, he's trying to influence the national security history of postwar America. His 10-part documentary, The Untold History of the United States, begins tonight on Showtime (an hour before Homeland!). It's notable that a major network—okay, a major cable network—is devoting 10 hours to an unabashedly left-of-center analysis of modern America that confronts many of the myths of the national security state that evolved after World War II. The 750-page book accompanying the documentary series—coauthored by Stone and American University professor Peter Kuznick—opens with an explicit note:
This book and the documentary film series it is based on challenge the basic narrative of U.S. history that most Americans have been taught. That popular and somewhat mythic view, carefully filtered through the prism of American altruism, benevolence, magnanimity, exceptionalism, and devotion to liberty and justice, is introduced in early childhood, reinforced through primary and secondary education, and retold so often that it becomes part of the air that Americans breath....[B]ut like the real air Americans breathe, it is ultimately harmful, noxious, polluted. It not only renders Americans incapable of understanding the way much of the rest of the world looks at the United States, it leaves them unable to act effectively to change the world for the better.
These are fighting words. And Stone and Kuznick are waging a battle. See Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday's review:
"Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States" runs over 10 one-hour episodes, beginning in World War II and continuing through the Obama administration. With newsreel footage, copious research and Stone’s own understated narration, "Untold History" revisits familiar events, but through an unapologetically leftist lens. While "Untold History" is grounded in indisputable fact, some of its contentions will certainly give conservatives and even moderate liberals pause, including its championing of [Henry] Wallace [FDR's progressive-minded veep], who has been castigated in recent years for what critics see as an appeasing attitude toward Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and surrounding himself with communists.
No doubt, Stone and Kuznick knew that this project would be greeted by mainstream skepticism, for their task is to poke the conventionalists in the eye. (Their book chapter on President Ronald Reagan is appropriately and justifiably subtitled, "The Reagan Years: Death Squads for Democracy," the one on President Barack Obama, "Managing a Wounded Empire.") And the conventionalists won't disappoint them. Take Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times:
The title alone is easy to scoff at. "Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States" sounds almost like a parody, a sendup of that filmmaker's love of bombast and right-wing conspiracy. This documentary series, beginning Monday on Showtime, isn't a joke, though some may find it laughable. It's deadly serious but also straightforward: a 10-part indictment of the United States that doesn't pretend to be evenhanded.
The series doesn't focus extensively on many of the things the United States has done right, Mr. Stone and the historian Peter Kuznick write in the introduction to their similarly titled companion book. It is more concerned with focusing a spotlight on what America has done wrong.
Still, Stanley is forced to concede, "Along the way [Stone] raises some valid points, notably that Americans too easily overlook the Soviet contribution in waging and winning World War II."
Stone's film work has always demonstrated a skill-driven flair for drama and a gut-level desire to convey basic ideas about life, war, history, politics, and the media. So it's no surprise a truly historical endeavor from Stone will rile up folks. And if doing so inspires any popular scrutiny of the nation's most fundamental myths, he and Kuznick will be able to say: Mission accomplished.
There's an old Mormon prophecy—of questionable origin and not accepted as official doctrine by the church—that in the latter days, when the US Constitution is hanging "like a thread," a Mormon will gallop in on a white horse to save the day, and Mormons will take the reins of the US government. That prophecy—legitimate or not—was not fulfilled this year. The white horse, wherever it may be, remains riderless. And such is the state of the Republican Party. After voters rebuked Mitt Romney—and a variety of Republican Senate candidates and a handful of GOP House members—the party, once again, is leaderless.
Political parties often end up in this position after losing a presidential election. Following Al Gore's (kind of) defeat in 2000, there was no central figure in the Democratic Party. (Hillary Clinton, a newbie senator at that point, was keeping her head down.) Leaders, though, do eventually arise, if only because presidential elections occur every four years and some guy or gal has to be nominated as the party's standard-bearer.
Not that it matters much, but one of the questions lingering after President Obama's decisive victory on Tuesday is this: did Team Romney believe its own bullshit?
Dana Liebelson notes that there were several signs of profound denial emanating from the Romney camp in the waning hours. Which might explain declarations made by top Romneyites in the closing days.
About forty-eight hours before the polls would open, Rich Beeson, the political director for Camp Romney, said the following on—where else?—Fox News:
There’s an intensity factor out there on the side of the Republicans, that is a significant gap and we see it out on the ground, we see it when people are knocking on the doors, we see it when people are making the phone calls and again, it gets back to the simple fact that Governor Romney is out there talking about big things and big change, not about small things and so I think as we start seeing returns coming in from New Hampshire, from southeastern Pennsylvania, from northern Virginia, from Cuyahoga County in Ohio, I think it is going to become pretty clear that there is going to be a widespread repudiation of the Obama administration, and, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan will be elected the next President and Vice President of the United States. And I don’t think we’ll have to wait very long to know that.
In case any reporters missed it, the Romney campaign rushed out the statement in a press release.
On the morning of Election Day, senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie went on—where else?—Fox News and said:
[Romney's] got momentum here on election day. And I think that's why he's going to win tonight, not just win, but win decisively. I don't think there’s going to be any doubt at the end of tonight who the next president is going to be.
And the campaign zapped out another press release.
It would be interesting to know—if Gillespie or Beeson would ever be so candid—whether these two top Romneyites (and their comrades) really bought this. Or were they merely putting out baseless spin because….well, because that's what they do? For weeks, the Romney campaign had peddled the myth of Mittmentum. Was that a cynical ploy or an act of self-delusion? Either answer is hardly flattering.
By the way, if you didn't see it, check out this list of pundit-predictions-gone-bad. One of the best—or worst—comes from Newt Gingrich. In late October, he said on—where else?—Fox News, "I believe the minimum result will be 53-47 [percent] Romney, over 300 electoral votes, and the Republicans will pick up the Senate. I base that just on years and years of experience.” Yes, years and years.
And a sad-and-funny account of excessive Romney GOTV fecklessness written after the election by a discouraged Romney volunteer may be useful in assessing whether Romney and his strategists (and their pundit backers) had any idea what was happening on the ground—that is, in the real world.
President Barack Obama made history again, with a victory that defied a decades-long trend: Incumbents don't triumph when the economy remains in the doldrums and the public sentiment is one of unease. In an archly ideological race that pitted a progressive case for government against a conservative assault on government, the president, burdened by a slow recovery but bolstered by a brilliant ground game based on hard-and-fast demographic realities, beat back Mitt Romney, who embraced the tea-partyization of the Republican Party and campaigned (often in an ugly fashion) for the chance to be CEO of the United States.
The election, a close call for Obama, signaled that division is still rampant within the political culture. Yet in his victory speech before thousands in a Chicago convention hall, Obama spoke of the "difficult compromises needed to move this country forward." He insisted, "We are an American family, and we rise and fall together." Moments later, he strode across a confetti-drenched stage, as the PA played Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising." He had mounted something of a political resurrection.
This election was always going to be arduous for the president. Not since FDR had an incumbent commander in chief won reelection with unemployment so high. But after Obama's party took a drubbing in the 2010 congressional elections, the president concocted a strategy for retaining the White House. In the weeks after that election, he told his aides and advisers that they needed to turn the 2012 contest into a battle of values and visions—no matter whom the Republicans would nominate. The reelection fight, he and his aides believed, had to be transformed from a conventional referendum on the guy in office and his handling of the economy to a stark choice between Obama's aims and those of the GOP standard bearer.
Florida governor Charlie Crist and his wife, Carole.
I just ran into former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the former Republican who has endorsed President Barack Obama, and his wife Carole, while they were strolling through the Obama campaign event in Chicago. "What's going to happen in your state?" I asked him.
It's close, he said. It's possible Obama can win. Yes, I replied, but if it's close, shenanigans can come into play.
"Yes, yes," Crist said. "Listen to what happened to my wife." He then nudged me in her direction. "Tell him," he said to her.
It was a phone call, she said. A robocall. it came at 8:15 this morning. Usually, she hangs up on such calls. But this one she listened to. It went something like this: "I'm calling from the supervisor of elections for Pinellas County to remind you that Election Day is tomorrow and you can vote until 7:00 pm." Tomorrow.
"If you woke up and heard about long lines and heard a call like this," she told me, "You might think you can wait until tomorrow. How many thousands of calls like this went out? And who made them? I don't know." (She was indeed one of thousands in the county who received the same misleading call.)
Well, I said, let's hope Florida is not another mess. "Yes," she said. "Let's."