Below, we are republishing the reviews for the campaign documentaries Running with Beto (out on HBO on May 28th) and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s Knock Down the House, available on Netflix today. Since it is a “rerun,” here’s a new poll from this morning that you people can try and make sense of:
Well, good morning Beto… (CNN/SSRS general election poll)— Michael Del Moro (@MikeDelMoro) May 3, 2019
O’Rourke v Trump 52-42%
Biden v Trump 51-45%
Sanders v Trump 50-44%
Harris v Trump 49-45%
Buttigieg v Trump 47-44%
Warren v Trump 47-48%
Running with Beto and Knock Down the House, the campaign documentaries that will air this Spring on HBO and Netflix, respectively, are fairly typical of campaign documentaries, which is not in any way a knock against either of them. Both are incredibly inspiring, both elicit tears in their triumphs and their losses, and both illustrate exactly why Beto O’Rourke and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez caught fire in 2018. They are both phenomenal politicians, but as importantly, they are good human beings, and both documentaries highlight how the sheer force of their magnetism made them the huge stars they are of the Democratic Party.
I loved both documentaries immensely, and David Modigliani — who directed Running with Beto — and Rachel Lears, who directed Knock Down the House — finessed hundreds of hours of footage into captivating accounts of winning and losing campaigns (in the case of Knock Down the House, Lear also followed the losing campaigns of three other women running for office in 2018). The documentaries cover more than just the campaigns — the speeches, the handshaking, the requisite scene in which the candidates turn in their signatures to get on the ballots — they also explore the candidates’ families. For Ocasio-Cortez, we see her begin the documentary retrieving ice for her job as a bartender, and learn about how her father inspired her campaign, and spend some time with her boyfriend. With Beto, we spend a lot of time with his wife and three kids, who must cope with losing their father to the campaign for days and weeks at a time (my biggest takeaway from that is that his kids are going to be heartbroken about Beto running for President).
One throughline for both documentaries, however, was in the way that the insurgent campaigns of the two figures bucked the Democratic Party, and it was interesting to see how they succeeded in varying degrees by turning against the establishment. Ocasio-Cortez was more hostile to her Democratic opponent, of course, but Beto quietly but purposely disassociated himself from establishment figures. Neither did so, however, for purely political reasons — they share a genuine animosity toward the moneyed interest that typically get politicians elected.
I do believe that both campaigns offer templates for 2020, and that there will be a lot of candidates who succeed based on similar strategies of honesty and authenticity. With Beto O’Rourke officially joining the 2020 campaign this morning, here are a few things we learned from their campaign docs that I believe/hope will influence future elections in the Democratic party.
— Interestingly, neither candidate really ran against Donald Trump. In fact, when Ocasio-Cortez’s establishment opponent Joseph Crowley repeatedly talked about standing up to Trump, it not only rang false but soured the view of the candidate. Running against Trump almost feels like the bare minimum — like, no shit, of course, you’re running against Trump. What else do you have? The important thing that both candidates stress is what they are running for. The positive spin was obviously refreshing, but it also allowed the candidates to offer something other than a roadblock to Trump. I don’t think it does much good in 2020 to tussle a lot with Trump. His record speaks for itself. I think, figuratively speaking, a dismissive eye roll toward the President is more effective than tit for tats.
— The thing that AOC says in the doc, that stuck out the most for me, was that she was not running a left vs. right campaign: She was running a bottom vs. top campaign. That strategy was also a big part of Beto’s campaign, and it’s going to be the key for anyone running for the Democratic nomination in 2020. Trump is going to try to divide the right and left; he’s going to try to divide black-and-white, city vs. rural, man vs. woman, America vs. the world. He’s proven effective at that, but the more effective strategy is to pit the 90 percent against the 10 percent.
Who really is the Trump presidency serving with the tax breaks and deregulation? Who is he really serving by fighting against climate change legislation? Rich people. Wall Street. The Corporations. F*ck them. You want to win? Demonize the rich, because they’re the real villains, anyway. They’re the ones who benefit from a Trump presidency. They’re the ones who don’t want to pay for universal health care, who push back against a $15 minimum wage, and who are afraid of their stock values slipping because they might have to cut back on carbon gasses. Run against oil and gas interests; run against insurance companies; run against Facebook, Amazon, and Google (as Elizabeth Warren is doing). Don’t make 2020 a culture war; make it a proletariat war against the aristocracy. Don’t pit neighbors against neighbors; bring down the motherf**kers at the top.
— And honestly, it’s huge when you don’t accept PAC money or corporate donations. When your opponent can attribute your positions to specific corporations, when he or she can say, “Oh, did Bank of America write that line for you, or did you come up with that yourself?”, I think it means a lot to voters.
Maybe I’m wrong. I mean, we used to talk it up a lot around here when it was less common, but at this point, we’re, like, one of three entertainment sites remaining that isn’t controlled by an angel investor or a media company (*high five* Slashfilm). Having worked on both sides, I’ll just say: It’s super different. We literally answer to no one except our readers (who can be pushy), and that is what I want in a political candidate, someone who answers to nobody else except the pushy voters. Someone who isn’t afraid to say to Disney or Anthem Insurance: “Hey, f*ck you, buddy. You can’t tell us what to say or do. If you f**k up, we will call your ass out, because we don’t give a rat’s ass about access or your money.”
— Running as a Democrat against the Democratic party is also appealing in many ways. And you don’t necessarily have to be super progressive to do this — Beto is a centrist, and he essentially ran against the establishment of his party. AOC, however, was very successful here, positioning Joseph Crowley — at the time, the fourth most powerful Democrat in Congress — as the bad guy owned by corporations. And it worked, because when voters said to AOC, “Yeah, but Crowley has all this power and influence in Congress. Why shouldn’t we vote for him?”, AOC would shoot back: “OK, but what is he doing with that power and influence? Is he helping you? Or is he helping special interests?” The answer in Crowley’s case was obvious.
Look: A lot of this is straight out of the Bernie playbook, and I completely recognize that. But as a Democrat, if you want to run a bottom vs. top campaign instead of a culture war campaign, you cannot have any baggage. Bernie doesn’t connect well with black voters, and the Bernie Bros. have alienated a lot of women. Those things are always going to be part of his campaign (and for Warren, her DNA test mishap), but if you come in as a Democratic candidate where questions like that don’t exist, you don’t have to fight those wars. If you come into the race as someone who everyone immediately understands is socially progressive — someone who automatically supports trans rights, who supports reparations, who supports Me Too — then you can zero in on what matters: Taking a 2x4 to the back of the head of the rich, and redistributing that wealth to raise up both the middle class and the working class, provide everyone with health insurance, strengthen unions, offer a better wage, and fix the goddamn climate.
Running against Trump is important, but running for America is necessary.
Running with Beto and Knock Down the House screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
Header Image Source: Netflix