Ken Burns is good at finding a way to frame big, epic narratives, and as it turns out, that skill applies to the 2012 presidential election as well as to his excellent forthcoming two-parter on the Dust Bowl, which airs the weekend before Thanksgiving. In his endorsement of Obama, he’s found he perfect cultural reference to use to think about the election:
One of my favorite movies of all time is Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart. In the film, Stewart’s character, a despondent and near suicidal George Bailey, who runs a small savings and loan in the town of Bedford Falls, is given a gift: the chance to see what his town would be like if he’d never been born — if he’d never extended a helping hand to his neighbors when they needed it most, never helped his community understand how much they depended upon one another. In this alternative vision, the town’s plutocratic banker, Mr. Potter — without the decent George Bailey to counter him — rules everything. A bottom-line-is-everything, every-man-for-himself mentality runs unchecked, resulting in Bedford Falls’ metamorphosis into “Pottersville,” an amoral, soulless place.
The movie has a happy ending, thank goodness, but its themes endure to this day and echo in the current presidential election, which at its core asks the question: What kind of country are we? Are we Bedford Falls or Pottersville? Are we all in this together — and stronger and better because of it — or are we entirely on our own, with a few “makers” on the top of a heap of “takers?” I’m supporting President Barack Obama because there is no question about his answer to that question. Having observed Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, and then watching him in the Republican primaries as he tacked this way and that whenever it suited him (but mostly to the far right, the Tea Party radicals, even the birthers), I can’t be sure of him.
It also makes so much sense that Ken Burns’ favorite movie is It’s A Wonderful Life.