The latest in the HBO documentary series I like to call Films Directed by Daughters of Liberal Politicians, Right America Feeling Wronged is the second of two docs from Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi—a revelation that elicited instantaneous jeers from a crowd of Sean Hannity fans at a McCain-Palin rally last year. Booing, it seems, has been the country-first, knee-jerk reaction of “real” Americans all over God’s country to the idea of anyone other than a Republican holding office in Washington. There’s nothing altogether novel or objective about Pelosi’s film; we’ve seen and heard the right’s vitriol and inexplicable anger before, and her portrait of middle America isn’t a whole lot more impartial than the one a black man from Mississippi accuses her of painting when he shames her for what he thinks is her intent to portray the people in his state as more racist than the ones in New York or California.
The divide in America is real, wide, and saddening, unquestionably facilitated by the wedge inserted by Hannity, Palin, and the like, and it will continue to exist under President Obama. What Pelosi’s film does, at least in fleeting glimpses, is humanize a few of her right-wing subjects. We’ve been told by red-faced Republican strategists and political-hack talking heads that the media was “in the tank” for Obama, but to hear from the mouths of actual Republican voters why they feel maligned and condescended to by the media sheds at least a sliver of light on how it’s possible that they could feel marginalized after years of congressional majorities and White House rule. One man’s xenophobic rant devolves into a teary-eyed lament for a country he feels is slipping away, and while it doesn’t make his stance on immigration or the election any less reprehensible, it at least gives the voting bloc he represents two-and-a-half dimensions.
Race was indeed an issue in the 2008 election (as one man blatantly and honestly says in the film: “[Kentucky is] not ready [for a black president]”), but Right America provides further evidence that the divide in this country isn’t simply between black and white, rich and poor, or red and blue, but between the educated and the uneducated—a fact exemplified routinely by the right’s incessant criticism of Obama’s tenure at Harvard. Pelosi’s subjects are shockingly ignorant, repeating the smears and myths about Obama’s refusal to salute the flag and accusations about his religion as if they’re well-known facts. One woman’s disgust at Obama’s supposed “removal” of his flag pin is downright pathological, as if wearing one is a constitutional requirement and not simply a fashion accessory of the hyper-patriotic and politically insecure. A young man rejects Obama’s “socialism” but can’t define or even spell the word. Even those in the film who seem rational compare Obama to Hitler, dreading his exploitation of hard times to ascend to power and do “bad things,” evidently unaware of George W. Bush’s eight years in office.
Following the boos and tears of election night, Pelosi ends her latest documentary with shots of workers cleaning up at McCain election-night parties, focusing on one ostensibly Hispanic man intently watching Obama’s acceptance speech on a TV monitor with broom in hand. It’s an image that captures the pride and long-awaited victories of so many on the left. But the 45-minute Right America doesn’t delve very deep when it comes to the opposition, missing an opportunity to truly understand the right by, say, following a few individuals or families and putting their lives and political convictions in a context that facilities insight or even empathy—something last month’s The Trials of Ted Haggard was able to accomplish without completely morphing into Sympathy for a Hypocrite.