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Decent history, but with evident left-wing bias
on January 4, 2014
This is a chronological history of the US presidents from the original George W. up to George W. Bush's 2004 re-election. Each episode features about 5 or 6 mini-biographies and a summary of each president's time in office (very little of his time before or after the presidency). In nearly every case, the producers try to show some positive as well as some negative of each, creating a relatively balanced portrait in most cases.
Beginning with Nixon, however, a left-wing bias becomes rather obvious. Of course, fair evaluation of Nixon's schizoid presidency (spectacular achievements as well as monumental failures) is a tricky act, and must end on a negative note because of how the presidency itself ended. Thus, reviews of Nixon are almost always harsh, and perhaps rightly so. Nonetheless, this depiction seems to be harsher than most. The brief Ford interlude gets somewhat of a pass, although there's the inevitable focus on Ford's physical clumsiness at the expense of his efforts to heal the nation after Watergate. The producers then write a love letter to Jimmy Carter, completely overlooking his penchant for micromanagement and how he was totally outclassed in the presidency, before moving onto Ronald Reagan. Reagan is *twice* introduced as a "former movie actor." Fair enough -- but there is NO mention of the fact that he was a moderately successful 2-term governor of the nation's largest state during a difficult time prior to the presidency (even Jimmy Carter is recognized as the former 1-term governor of a small southern state).
Bush Sr. is treated basically as Reagan's third term, and the treatment of Clinton, while somewhat fawning, is moderately fair in and of itself; however, the storyline casts Newt Gingrich and the 1994 Republicans as the villains against Slick Willie in Shining Armor, and proclaims -- apparently with a straight face -- that it was Clinton (who previously had shown no interest in a balanced budget, not even campaigning on it) who forced the Republicans to compromise, not the other way around. Finally, we end with Bush the Younger, who is introduced as a "former prep-school cheerleader who went to Yale." Yes, really.
But that's not all -- there's a 90-minute special on the first ladies. One would think that this would at least rise above politics and show how that office has evolved. One can, in fact, make the case that the office of First Lady, unencumbered as it is by any Constitutional prescriptions, has evolved at an even more aggressive pace than the presidency itself. Sadly, the majority of the "documentation" in this production is provided by a series of liberal female college professors who hold forth their icons of Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton, holding every other first lady before or since against this gold standard and finding all of them wanting. Even Roslyn Carter -- ROSLYN CARTER -- is exalted over nearly everyone else. Pat Nixon and Nancy Reagan are (predictably, by this point) given a particularly heavy-handed treatment. This is rather sad in Pat Nixon's case, as she, unlike Nancy, never sought the limelight or a high-profile position in her husband's administration, yet she repeatedly is treated harshly by historians. As for Nancy, the producers have utterly no shame in visually contrasting the 60ish Reagan with the 30ish Jackie, a technique that is almost criminal.
Needless to say, I have not yet embarked upon the final disc -- an A&E Biography of Barack Obama. Given the gaps in the incumbent's biography (starting, some would say, with his birth itself), I am hesitant to see how a production team from the same network will creatively adapt his sketchy story, but have very little doubt what their conclusions will be. His rise to power, nonetheless, is a story worth telling, but it is obviously premature (from a fairness perspective, at least) to gauge the success or failure of his administration.
All in all, a moderately good synopsis of the presidency, but a disappointment at the end.