It's hard to have missed any facts in McCain or Obama's respective bios if you spend more than an hour a day on Newsvine, or if you watch the news networks or listen to the radio. And it's hard in doing so to have missed the media's obsessive parsing of every morsel of minutiae that has made headlines ever since Barack Obama and John McCain announced their candidacies for the president of The United States. But it has been hard to remember the threads that are marked by the newsworthy knots of each campaign and the spool of the men from whence each thread emerged. The core of the spool being the roots, the history, the essence of what has motivated each man to put himself on this precipice of history. If you are one of those who have lost sight of those spools and the natures of their threads, or who have perhaps never seen them at all, Frontline's The Choice 2008 will serve as the perfect pair of eyeglasses.
The documentary follows closely the mold of Frontline's dueling biographies of John Kerry and George W. Bush in The Choice 2004, yet rather than choosing its ancestor's theme of service to country, The Choice 2008 focuses on each candidate's journey to and through politics. We see how both John McCain rose, stumbled and rose again to the forefront of their parties, yet expounds on their very different strategies, motivations and almost perfectly polarized temperaments. For both John McCain and Barack Obama there has been no lack of trade-offs, compromises, concessions and u-turns and, in making these hard choices, no lack of calculation. If there is any doubt that either McCain or Obama are seasoned politicians, this documentary will put that firmly to rest. But the larger question it begs is this: why and how deep do the political waters run in the man?
The Choice 2008 doesn't necessarily give a concrete answer to that question, but it certainly fills in many holes of the mystery. One could say that the best indicator of what led each man into politics is to look at their lives immediately proceeding their careers: Barack Obama first an ivy-league student, then a small potatoes community organizer; John McCain first a fighter pilot, then a prisoner of war. Idealism and audacity at the outset, tempered by the accumulated pain and scars of reality and humility. Barack Obama emerged from community organizing disappointed by the powerlessness to achieve meaningful change, and John McCain emerged from service disappointed at the mishandling of the Vietnam War. Both at heart are good men, strong men, smart men, idealistic men and tireless men. The similarities seem to end there.