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Call it Democracy

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/29/05 14:24:02

"Just when you thought it was safe to back to the polls..."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

If you’re still reeling over the 2004 presidential election - or, worse, the 2000 one - then boy, do I have the movie for you. While filmmaker Matt Kohn put in the effort to be quite fair in his reporting, let’s face it: “Call It Democracy” is, at its core, a rallying cry for everyone still bitter about the outcome of both elections that led to George W. Bush taking the oath of office.

The documentary is part recap of the 2000 fiasco (one interviewee boils every problem related to the election down to its being, simply, “sloppy”), part watchdog focus on the 2004 race, and, in a lesser sense, part rundown of past U.S. election fiascoes.

Personally, I’d have love to have seen more of the latter. The film provides detailed research into the centuries of problems regarding the Electoral College system, ultimately making a strong case for an elimination of this outdated process. (For you pro-E.C. folks out there, don’t sweat - Kohn offers supporters of the system plenty of chances to defend it. Still, in the end, they lose this debate.) Reminders of past election disasters and backroom dealmakings reveal that not only is this voting method, in which the person with the most votes not necessarily the winner, a system that’s goofy at best and doomed at worst, but it’s a system created by those who claim to support democracy but ultimately have only their own selfish interests at heart.

But you’re not interested in the distant past. You don’t even want to hear much about the 1960 presidential election, in which Kennedy skimmed by Nixon for a scant victory, one that could have, might have, been overturned had Nixon asked for a recount in a few states. No, sir, you’re a screaming liberal, anxious to get to the nasty stuff about our current commander in chief. Kohn is happy to oblige.

“Democracy” is perhaps the most detailed study of the 2000 election I’ve yet seen. Not only do we get the “greatest hits” evidence against the election (a distrustful Secretary of State, a falsified list of ineligible voters, etc.), but we get a closer, more finely tuned look at what else went wrong. Even if Florida had not become the hot button issue of the time, even if one candidate were the clear victor early on, the 2000 election would still qualify as a pure disaster. Outdated voting machines, voting irregularities across the state, problem after problem after problem - ignore the who-won fight, and you’re still left with a statewide election that could only be described as a shambles. It’s a minor miracle that anybody’s votes got counted at all.

But then we add the disputed outcome into the mix, and all hell breaks loose. One can dispute some of the film’s comments here as biased, agenda-driven. One can even say that its discussion on the Supreme Court’s decision - perhaps the sharpest discussion one will find - is also too focused on anti-Dubya bitterness. But one cannot dispute that this discussion reveals so much about the Court and its findings. If the elections were an unintentional shambles, the Court’s opinions were of the intentional variety, lacking in understandable logic and reason. Kohn’s message: now matter who you are and how you voted, if you tell yourself the Court’s findings were not motivated politically, you’re deluded.

In fact, while most of the film can be ignored by Bushies as being too liberal, too biased, too rabble-rousing, the portion involving the Supreme Court is a rant that goes beyond political party. Here’s an issue that should not be driven by right or left leanings, the film reminds us. This is a collapse of our very system, and it’s time to sit up and take notice, no matter which guy got your vote.

Kohn wraps up his film with an in depth study of the 2004 election, obviously the result of his (and many others) hoping to keep a close eye on the event, to make sure the opportunities for shenanigans are fewer this time around. And, bringing us back to the Electoral College theme, we get to revisit the Colorado debate over a winner-takes-all system.

Like many films of this nature, it’s bound to only be seen by politically active lefties. Granted, conservatives usually draw back when confronted with such issues (ah, that pesky “truth”), especially if the political documentary format in general reminds them too much of a brash, sweaty Michael Moore (who‘s so disliked by some that they would ignore him no matter what he had to say). And yes, “Call It Democracy” is at times as rambling as a Moore film; Kohn, like Moore, tries to tackle more issues than seem to fit in one movie. But the reporting on display here is top notch, and its anger is tempered with intelligent journalism that aims for fairness. It’s a solid work all around, and a welcome addition to the current political documentary explosion.

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