Long-time reader, first-time poster yian tells us about what it’s like to be in Moveon.org’s next commercial, where they have solicited average Americans who voted for Bush in 2000 to tell why they aren’t voting for him this November. Here’s the blow by blow:
Heh. They think I’m talent.
You’ve made the final short list for the upcoming MoveOn Ads that we will be producing. It is very likely you will be asked to participate but before we can say definitively, I will need you to answer the questions below as best you can.
We will request your presence for a single shoot day in Boston, MA on either July 18th, 19th or 20th. Please understand that if you are scheduled for the end of a day, it is possible that we would have to push into the following day. This is highly unlikely due to the nature of the timing of the spot.
We will provide all transportation and travel expenses (hotel, ground transportation, meals, etc.).
I need the following information to proceed:
Preferred Airline (not guaranteed):
Preferred Travel Time (AM/PM):
Conflict Dates (please provide any conflicts for travel and shoot, July 17 – July 21):
Date of Birth:
Have you ever been convicted of a crime that you feel would be harmful to the MoveOn PAC campaign if discovered?
We will be trying to contact everyone today with our final selection criteria.
Woke up at an eye-popping early 5:45am on Sunday for my 7am flight. Enough said. At Boston’s Logan airport, I’m greeted by a production assistant Yael (her name is pronounced Yah-elle). I find out she is my age, that she’s a freelance production assistant hired for this project, and that she didn’t know about Moveon.org. So I fill her in, discover she is an undecided who has nevertheless decided she isn’t going to vote for Bush, and do my best to convince her that she should vote Kerry. She finds out that I didn’t know who the MoveOn commercials are going to be directed by: Errol Morris. He’s the guy who did the Robert McNamara documentary on Vietnam, Fog of War. This rings a bell because my husband has been saying forever that we should see this, so I decide I have to see it now.
Car ride over, we arrive at the studio MoveOn has rented. It was basically empty except for the crew that was there to shoot the commercials. The reason it was being done on a Sunday is that I couldn’t take off work for the other time slots on Monday and Tuesday of that week. During which the Democratic Convention would be taking place in Boston anyway, in which case I wouldn’t want to be in gridlock. Oh, and Boston’s Big Dig project is neat.
I am moved into a room off a hallway that has a sign taped up, “Talent Holding Room.” Heh. I meet a nice couple who have driven from Ohio – the husband Sid is the one who responded to MoveOn and is being filmed before me. They soon depart for the cameras. I also meet Jen, a college student from Florida (also undecided) before I’m shunted off to wardrobe. The stylist decides that what I’m wearing is fine but adds a nice-looking gold necklace with this tiny pendant thingy, which I’ve now decided I want one of (except silver). Then I go over to another room where I meet Donielle (not sure how to spell his name), who is the makeup guy. He airbrushes on lots of foundation, and adds on blush to bring out my cheekbones, pink eye shadow (which I think looks horrible on Asians), and some natural-colored lip-gloss. All of this is because the camera, per Donielle, will wash me out. I’m wearing a ton of makeup and want to scrub my face, but ok.
I wait for a brief period back in the talent room, playing bejeweled, glancing through the magazines and newspapers they have thoughtfully brought, and then I’m informed I’m up. I walk down the hall through the last door, and into the studio, which is a big, big warehouse with mostly unfinished interior. There are huge cylindrical, drum-lights hanging off the ceiling next to one wall, and black cloths are draped over the sides of the lights closest to the cameras (to dampen the glare, I guess). This same side of the room is covered with what can only be described as a bigass roll of white paper that goes from the ceiling to the floor to create the cornerless, edgeless background of the commercial. All of this is new to me because I’ve never been remotely involved with production stuff, so that’s why I’m describing it in detail (because I think it’s neat).
I’m directed to a row of foldable director’s seats, where I sit and chat with the producer for a while about my husband, AI, and me. Turns out Charlie wosshisname worked for a university doing AI before teaming up with his friend Errol. In front of me is the camera on a rotating base with wheels and a seat for someone to sit on. Off to my left is a small TV and a small room made of steel pipes and draped over with black curtains. There’s another camera in there.
While I’m waiting, a lady named Deborah who had just gone before me comes back in to do a reshoot of something. Everything on the set goes quiet, and looking in the small TV to my left, I see the camera zoom in on a picture Deborah is holding up. She explains to the camera that the picture shows her children and points them out one by one – one son has Down’s syndrome, the other in the middle has schizophrenia, and the third also schizophrenia. Later I find out she is from Wimberly, Texas, and that her two sons with schizophrenia were given bad medication that induced the personality disorder. I’ll be interested to see how they use her story.
Deborah leaves, and Errol Morris comes over and introduces himself. (Aha. Browsing his site, I find out that the camera setup he favors is called the Interrotron.) Errol is tall, with grey hair and a pleasant, inquisitive expression. He thanks me for coming; I thank him for allowing me to be there. Then we get started.
I walk over to where a line is taped on the floor in front of the Interrotron (white background behind me). I’m looking up into a big camera where a lens is framed by a screen. So it’s like looking into a TV with a lens built in to look back at you. They adjust the camera to my height, and then Errol’s face appears! He’s in the black curtain room in front of his own Interrotron, looking back at me. This is neat because unlike interviews on TV where they switch angles to show the interviewer, and then the interviewee, and then both of them from the side, etc., the commercial will tape me looking right into the camera with me interacting like I’m talking to a real person (Errol’s face).
The interview begins and lasts about 30 minutes. I wish that I had been more eloquent. I kicked myself afterwards when I realized I completely forgot to talk about 1) the environment, 2) our no-abortion-allowed strings attached to our international humanitarian aid to poor third world countries, and 3) the poor planning of the Iraq war, and 4) unemployment. It boggles my mind how I could have forgotten these.
On the other hand, I do talk long, earnestly and eagerly about why I believe Bush is not fit for another four years. Errol started off by having me introduce myself by name and where I’m from:
“I’m yian, and I’m from New Jersey.”
“But where were you from before that?” Errol grins at me.
“Texas.” I smile back.
“Can you introduce yourself again?”
So I repeat a couple of times my name and that I’m from Texas (I throw in Dallas for effect). This is telling in the interview process – I find that when I hit on a point they like, or they want me to stress something, or I say a sound bite that is in line with the commercial, Errol asks me to repeat it a couple of times so that they can get multiple takes for the editing process later. Anyway, I guess they are going to play me up as the Texan!
Errol’s questions were all open-ended and general. He would mainly ask me things like, “Why did you vote for Bush in 2000?” “Does that make you angry?” “Does that make you feel betrayed?” etc. so all of the talking points were my own – he never suggested anything if I hadn’t mentioned it first and he wanted more exposition. So from what I remember, where’s what I was asked and what I said:
“Why did you vote for Bush in 2000?”
Back in 2000, I was just out of college and had lived in Texas all my life. If I had to describe myself, I would call myself a conservative Republican. This is in line with Texas in general, and also with the Chinese, conservative community I’d grown up with. I say that if you don’t vote Republican in Texas, you’re basically wasting your vote, but that wasn’t the reason I had voted for Bush. Unfortunately, I was very ignorant of politics at the time. It wasn’t until after 2000 that I started reading the news more, becoming aware of Bush’s policies, and keeping up with current events. When I did so, I found out that Bush was not the person I had voted for, and that I didn’t like the direction he was taking the country (even before September 11th).
Bush called himself a compassionate conservative. And when he got into office, I discovered that he wasn’t the person that he said he would be. Shortly after 2000, I read the news and discovered that I disagreed with Bush. The earliest example was the rejection of the Kyoto protocol. Then backing out of the US’ earlier promise to endorse and participate with the international court for war crimes. (How telling that seems now.) Then the news that we made our humanitarian aid to Africa conditional only if they promoted anti-abortion policies. I didn’t remember all of this – I wish I had and that I had said it in front of the camera. Because I don’t believe that as a nation, we should push our morals onto other countries at the expense of third world women who need medical care and aid that they can’t otherwise get.
I also didn’t like the direction he was taking the party. If you look at the Republican Party today and the path they’ve headed down since 2000, Bush has decided to appeal to his base – these are his hard-line conservatives, rich Republican elites, and right-wing zealots. They’ve given away taxes to the high-income earners to shore up support at companies and big business, and pursued agendas and policies of the religious right. The latest attempt at amending the Constitution to redefine marriage is just one example of a Republican agenda to force cultural issues to satisfy Bush’s base. If you ask me, we have a lot more important things to talk about right now than what marriage should look like. For a moderate Republican though, where does a person like me go when you see the party veering so far to the right? There’s no place left for a moderate, because the Republican party of the past four years doesn’t believe in fiscal responsibility, it doesn’t believe in small government, and it certainly doesn’t believe in religious tolerance. The Republican Party simply doesn’t represent moderates anymore because Bush has steadily been pushing them away.
But beyond all of this, is what happened after September 11th, when Bush squandered the goodwill of the world and took us into a war where we never belonged. He went in for a quick and easy victory in Afghanistan against al Quaeda, and securing the nation and bin Laden turned into passing afterthought. And then we went into Iraq based on false intelligence.
I remember at this point, Errol asked me, “Do you feel duped?” and I said, yes, I’d been had. I trusted our president to have the courage and intelligence to do the right thing when it comes to war – because lying about war is not like lying about your age or your resume. It’s war. It means that people will die. It means you will send your own into another country, and that a good number of them will likely die as well. It means ruin, and destruction, and death and poverty and all the worst things in the world that can happen, just on a larger and much faster scale because people can get mad enough at each other to start a fight.
I brought up Colin Powell’s UN presentation as an example. I saw him step up to speak for the nation, to represent the White House and the country. I watched him present the case before the UN, with his satellite photos, with weapons labs, missiles and bunkers so clearly marked off. I saw George freaking Tenet, director of the CIA, sitting right behind him, giving his implicit approval to everything that was said. And it convinced me. I’d said to my husband, “Surely, the administration must have information that ordinary Americans don’t have. Surely, they must have information that justifies this war that they can’t declassify. (Don’t get me started on declassifying documents for political purposes.) Surely, they must know what they are doing and we can trust them.” But it didn’t turn out that way. All the intelligence was not only wrong, but we were misled. There were no weapons. Saddam didn’t have long-range missiles. He didn’t have chemical weapons en masse.
I had been misled. And it made me angry.
“Did Bush lie to you?”
He hasn’t lied. He’s really careful not to do that. What they’ve done is that they have been very careful to spin the truth, to put the best possible light on very bad situations. If you read the news and pay attention to the policies of this administration, you will see that the reality of the state we’re in versus their version of events is very, very different. Because there are different ways to tell the truth… it’s like how there are different ways of telling lies. There are out-and-out lies, and there are white lies. And then there is a kind of lie where you tell the truth, but only enough of it so that the other person agrees with you. If the other person knew the entire truth, he wouldn’t agree with you at all. There’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And then there’s George Bush’s version of the truth, where he has told us only part of the truth. He hasn’t been honest with us.
Bush has said that when it comes to history, he doesn’t care how he’ll be judged because we’ll all be dead. Well, I care. Because I firmly believe that when all the documents come out, when everything’s declassified, and when we have the whole truth, we’ll see that this administration has been the most destructive, lying, dishonest, corporate-pandering failure of an administration that we’ve ever known.
“You mentioned that you are a Christian?”
“And what does that mean to you?”
It means that I believe in Jesus Christ, the only son of God, who came to earth for us and died for our sins. Which means that we are all sinners in need of redemption and God’s grace. And that all we have to do is believe and accept God’s free gift of forgiveness to be saved.
“George Bush calls himself a Christian, too. How does this make you feel?”
I pause for a little, and think hard, and then I say that I know he goes to church on Sundays. And I know that he calls himself a Christian.
“Do you believe that?”
I don’t want to guess about George Bush’s faith, because that’s something that’s between him and God. What I do know is that I’m not happy with the way he has acted in office.
Because as Christians we are called to act in a certain way. While we are here on this earth, we are to do good, to be moral and obey God’s commands, to help others less fortunate than us, and to spread God’s word. Above all we are to give glory to His name. And Bush’s actions in office, as a compassionate conservative, don’t reflect at all what I believe as a Christian.
For one, we are called to be good stewards of this earth. And by extension, I believe that means the country as well. Which means that if you are president of the United States, the highest office of the land and indeed, one of the most powerful in the world – if you call yourself a Christian, then you will be judged more critically. Because of his Christianity, I judge him more closely on his stewardship, and I see someone who has failed in compassion and in moral authority. I see tax cuts being given away to people who earn over $200,000 a year, the people who need it least. I see corporate interests and Bush’s cronies benefiting at the expense of middle America and the poor. I see the economy suffer when we started with a $2T surplus (let’s just be generous with the math and round to whole numbers) and within 1 to 3 years, Bush blew through that into a $5T deficit. A record deficit and net spending of $7T!! This is not the conservative I elected. It wouldn’t bother me that we’re in such a financial hole if we had something to show for it. But what do we have? Benefits cut for veterans, funding for soldiers in Iraq cut, 40 million uninsured Americans without healthcare, being dragged into a war that wasn’t right, the ruin of our name and reputation… the list just goes on and on.
And we are paying for it. We have spent who knows how much on top of money for Iraq alone. And all of it is going to be paid for by the taxpayer. And as I said earlier, this is not bad – it’s fine if we want to spend money, as long as I have something to show for it. But what do I have? Higher healthcare costs, a deficit that will ensure higher taxes in the future, and cut government programs and services when they try to balance the budget in the future. Down the line, if he keeps spending the way he has been, Bush is going to bankrupt either Social Security or Medicaid. And then what will we tell uninsured seniors and the poor in need of healthcare? We keep digging ourselves into a deeper financial hole with a party that is supposed to be known for its fiscal conservatism!
Bush has wrecked the county.
“Wait. What was that? Can you say that again?”
Bush has wrecked the country.
“What makes you say that?”
Besides all the stuff I’ve been talking about? I pause and think. The single worst error I can think of is that our foreign policy has failed. We were misled to go into Iraq. We presented false facts and intelligence. We turned our backs on our allies and friends, and the rest of the world when they urged caution. We said we didn’t need anyone, and then we invaded a Muslim country in the middle of an Arab region, which also happens to have a lot of oil. Then we completely botched the postwar planning. We didn’t secure the infrastructure, we disbanded an army that could have helped us with security, and we underestimated and inflamed local and Arab tensions. And Abu Ghraib. How can the rest of the world look at us and take us seriously anymore? We have become an international byword for shoddy intelligence and false representation. I think of our standing in the world three or four years ago as a respected, leader of the world – as a moral force – and I could never, ever have imagined how starkly different the situation would be that we’re in now. And I can’t remember whom – Powell, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz – but one of Bush’s own top cabinet members admitted, “it will take us a generation, over a lifetime, to recover from the damage that has been done.”
That is what has happened to our reputation. But it never should have happened. But worse beyond this, is that Bush is doing all this in the name of being a Christian. Which means that he represents me. He is there in the office because I trusted him to do what he said he would do, to be compassionate, conservative Christian. But not only that – he represents my God. And that is what makes me so angry. Because he is doing all of these things, and failing all in the name of my God. He has done all these things and continues to fail in his stewardship, and all in the name of my God, who deserves nothing but glory, instead of the condemnation, scorn and shame that is heaped on us now.
I’m pretty emotional at this point and have to stop for a second.
Errol turns the conversation towards something else. I remember that during the whole interview, he asked me several times to repeat what I’d just said. At one point, I was pretty animated and said “It just makes me so mad. Is that ok? I can be your angry voter!” And he laughed and said back, “Be angry!” and then I had to backpedal and admit that I’m not usually an angry person.
I think they’re going to play me up as the Texan, because they asked me to repeat that so many times (even again at the end.) But I may also end up as their angry voter, because here are some of the choice words Errol lit on and had me repeat:
“Bush as wrecked the country.”
“Bush is a miserable failure.” (I gave props to dick Gephardt, by the way.)
“If I had to go back and do it again, I would never have voted for Bush in 2000.”
(My history/whole truth quote): “Bush has said that when it comes to history, he doesn’t care how he’ll be judged because we’ll all be dead. Well, I care. Because I firmly believe that when all the documents come out, when everything’s declassified, and when we have the whole truth, we’ll see that this administration has been the most destructive, lying, dishonest, corporate-pandering failure of an administration that we’ve ever known.”
“We can’t afford another four years of George Bush.”
“If I had to give Bush a grade, I’d fail him with an F. Ok, maybe a D if I’m feeling generous.” We have gone backwards in so many ways since 2000.
I also remember at one point giving a bit of perspective when he asked who I would vote for in 2004, and I answered Kerry. I said that when it came to both parties, the system has still failed. We have two parties that are very similar, that both cater to special interests, and that money above all else drives politics. And most importantly, that neither party has offered a new vision or dream for the United States. But I also say that politics and voting is always a matter of choosing the lesser of the two evils. (At this, Errol makes me repeat the scene I describe next, so he can capture it in a wide shot.) I raise my left hand with the palm up high to the ceiling and say, here’s George Bush. Very evil. I raise my right hand lower, and say, here’s John Kerry. Not so evil.
“That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement!”
Yeah, I don’t know if you guys want to use that one, I grin.
Anyway, except for that last part, it was all pretty much in line with Moveon’s talking points :) Errol has me repeat a few more times that I’m from Texas, and then they wrap. I look back on the interview and come up with two thoughts: 1) It felt really, really good to be given a voice, to have an opportunity to vent my frustration and know that I was being listened to, that a lot of people would hear what I was saying. And 2) that I got the unexpected chance to witness my God, not only to a roomful of production assistants and producers, but also in front of the camera.
After the interview, I met three more people who had just flown in – a couple from New York (the husband a Republican, the wife a Democrat who’d made him see the light), and an undecided voter from Colorado. Seems like MoveOn got good representation from the swing states! Everyone broke for lunch, and another freelance production assistant drove me into Boston after I signed a waiver and got my per diem. I found out that he was also an undecided voter who nevertheless knew he wasn’t voting for Bush. This PA was more specific though, in that he was trying to decide between Nader and Kerry. So I gave him the same conversation as before with PA1, explaining MoveOn, and from a more practical standpoint, why it made sense to vote for Kerry (which boils down to 1) we can’t afford to let Bush get another term, and 2) Nader, while his heart is questionably in the right place, doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning.)
My flight left after 6pm but I had to get my picture taken by a photographer who is a friend of Errol’s (she was doing the work for free), and then had a few hours to kill before leaving Boston. I think the pictures are going to show up eventually on MoveOn’s site. The photographer Elsa Dorfman has 1 of 6 Polaroid cameras in the world made by Kodak to make giant Polaroids. Like 24″ x 36″. They were made earlier in the 70s because Kodak wanted to prove that color Polaroids on a large scale were viable. I guess they proved their point with quality, but the camera itself never really took off. The photo is huge photo paper with negative on one side, and positive on the other – there is a pouch of the photo chemicals that goes 2′ across the paper. Here’s a picture of her with the camera.
What an experience. As I said earlier, I’m glad that I was given a voice and the opportunity to be there. I’m really eager to see how the commercials will turn out. I’m really hoping that they don’t splice sound bites of all the interviewees together, and only insert shots of me with my inflammatory remarks.