With the impending US election we can expect a lot of programming appearing on our TV sets, and tonight is no different with Channel 4 airing a piece by C4’s own Washington correspondent Matt Frei titled “The American Roadtrip: Obama’s Story”. Despite the title, however, it’s not so much a recap of Obama’s presidency, or even a thorough Roadtrip up and down the United States, as it is a re-evaluation of what the American Dream really means.
Voter turnout is a real issue in America and across the world. In Britain we’ve had a slight resurgence in the last two elections, but the numbers are still not where they should be. In America the issue is to the point where in the 2004 Presidential Election, the first election after 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, the public cast more votes for American Idol than to determine the man often deemed as “leader of the free world”.
If you ask a non-voter why they didn’t turn up to the ballot box, sometimes they’ll tell you that they didn’t believe any party or candidate stood for what they wanted to, that they were too busy or didn’t believe that their vote counts but the one response you’ll most frequently hear is that they didn’t know enough about it. In a constantly expanding world where information is so crucial and so easily accessible, this is such an unacceptable answer.
How simple is it to load the BBC News app onto your phone, or to listen to a podcast on the way to work or school. Another way is to simply look at your TV Guide and notice the constant stream of documentaries and features that’ll introduce you to the facts of some current event or in this case an election. Viewers that tuned into Matt Frei’s documentary tonight on the American Election for this reason will feel hard done by.
Frei travels through Iowa and Minneapolis talking to the so often referenced Middle Classes that are fundamental to this election, we hear stories of homes that are under threat of repossession, of a gun shop owner who feels let down by both parties and Tea Party members who suffer under their obligation to vote Republican.
A constant and dominating theme is Frei’s obsession with the relevance of the American Dream, and if it even exists anymore. He opens the documentary with the wonderful statement that “America was founded on a story of personal fulfilment”, which can be interpreted in so many different ways. One of the interviewees is an Afghanistan veteran that believes this idea still holds true to this day and that the foundation of America Inc. is the success of small business and the continuation of independent ambition.
The most captivating story is also the most relevant to this election. When the programme came to healthcare, it was bound to be a sore subject. In the US, 40m people are without health insurance and Obama’s signature piece of legislation of his presidency was to make it a point of law for everyone in the USA to have to have health insurance. This is seen by the Republican Party as an attack on freedom and constitutional rights, and was even taken to the Supreme Court.
Whatever your beliefs on healthcare, one interviewee exemplifies everything that’s wrong with the system in America. He speaks of his diagnosis of diabetes, with the treatment totalling $56,000. This amount on it’s own seems incredible, but when he was advised to conduct a check for prostate cancer, he was diagnosed with an
aggressive form of the disease. His radiation cost more than $110,000, and when adding on his diabetes bills as well as other visits, biopsies and treatments, the total makes an amount more than the cost of his house. This kind of cost to the civilian would test anyone’s faith in the system, and this man in particular, when asked about his views on the American Dream, spoke of his reformed views that America was built on greed and bloodshed and these same traditions carry on to this day.
There is only a very brief profile of the candidates, as well as the Tea Party who are described as white middle class Americans who feel dissatisfied with Obama’s supposed restrictions on freedom, in a battle that they deem a “Holy War”. The attempts in this programme to provide any information on the Presidential nominees is limited to describing Obama as a “great storyteller” and Romney as an incompetent Mormon with magic underpants.
This program will hopefully not be a sign of things to come before next Tuesday’s crucial election, because with so many vital topics to cover it seems that any time that can be spared to talk about the most famous display of democracy in the world should be guarded and valued, instead of plundered away and used instead as a means of discussing the departure of the power of a single American to define their own destiny.