By Jessica Yellin, CNN Chief White House Correspondent
President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign unveiled Thursday a 17-minute long video painting a glowing portrait of the president’s first three years in office. The theme: Obama inherited one of the worst financial meltdowns in history and, despite the odds, improved the economic picture while racking up accomplishments that should make key Democratic constituencies happy.
The video, narrated by Tom Hanks, features interviews with former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, former Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod and former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, among others. Academy Award winner David Guggenheim directed the spot.
The ad’s overarching theme is that the president made tough decisions based not on political expedience but instead for enduring change, but that he has more work to do. The message seems geared more toward base voters who are already inclined to support him, not toward swaying the undecided.
The video, called “The Road We’ve Traveled,” begins with dire descriptions of the state of the U.S. economy immediately following Obama’s election. Axelrod describes a post-election briefing this way: “There was a screen set up for slides, but we might as well have been showing a horror movie because what was described in that meeting was an economic crisis beyond what anybody had imagined.”
Emanuel says in the film: “You had people telling you that the auto industry was literally days from collapse. The financial sector – kind of the heart that pumps blood into the economy – was frozen up in cardiac arrest.”
Narrator Tom Hanks then weighs in: “Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt had so much fallen on the shoulders of one president.”
The ad, which the campaign refers to as a documentary, reminds viewers that the Recovery Act gave middle class voters a tax cut, funded job training programs and helped pay the salaries for police, first responders and teachers.
A significant portion of the video focuses on the decision to bail out the now-recovered American auto industry, making the case that the president’s choice to fund a second round of bailouts was fraught with risk.
Former consumer advocate and Assistant to the President Elizabeth Warren, now running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, is featured saying, “If he fails to invest in the auto industry it implodes, the economy goes down and blood is on his hands. The president invests and the auto industry just can’t pull out? That’s on the president’s hands as well.”
There’s a reminder that the George W. Bush administration invested $13 billion in Detroit and that Mitt Romney penned an op-ed entitled “Let Detroit go Bankrupt.” In the words of former President Clinton, “He didn’t just give the car companies the money and he didn’t give the UAW the money. He said, ‘You guys gotta work together and everybody’s gotta have some skin in the game here.'”
The narrator concludes, “Because of the tough choices the president made the stage was set for a resurgent auto industry.”
Despite the controversy over health care reform, the campaign’s video doesn’t shy away from presenting it as a major accomplishment. This section includes the only appearance by first lady Michelle Obama. In explaining why the president wouldn’t back down when it looked like the Affordable Care Act would fail, she said that he was encouraged by the memory of his mother, whose death from ovarian cancer was complicated by inconsistent health insurance.
Bill Clinton describes health care as a “huge economic issue,” and narrator Hanks says of the president, “He knew he couldn’t fix the economy if he didn’t fix health care. He wanted to bring Washington together to face the tough decisions but he faced an opposition hostile to compromise.”
The section ends with the passage of Obama’s signature health care reform law, but the ad later comes back to health care, with the message that more Americans now have coverage because of the legislation.
The most dramatic portion of the documentary deals with the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. It features nighttime video of military helicopters and familiar images of the president and his team before and during the operation.
Here, Obama is featured saying, “A lot of people have asked, ‘How did you feel when you first heard that it was Bin Laden and he’d been killed?’ And truth is I didn’t have time for a lot of feelings at that point because our guys were still in that compound. And it wasn’t until I knew they were across the border — they were safe, everybody was an accounted for, including the dog — that I allowed some satisfaction.”
For dramatic measure the narrator adds, “It was the ultimate test of leadership. A victory for our nation. And there would be many others.”
Reminding viewers that the president ran on the promise to end the war in Iraq, the ad shows images of the president welcoming home returning troops. Hanks succinctly describes it as “a promise kept.”
From here the video offers something for just about every Democratic interest group. There are reminders that health care reform expanded coverage to young adults, women with children and the ill. For the green energy crowd, he signed into law new mileage standards for vehicles. For young voters, he reformed student loan programs. For gays and lesbians, he ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. For women, he signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and nominated two women to the Supreme Court. And the campaign’s closing message on the economy makes the case that the jobs picture is improving and Detroit is now booming.
The Obama campaign is screening the video Thursday at more than 300 locations across the country, according to a campaign spokesperson. Axelrod, now a senior strategist on Obama’s reelection campaign, will conduct a question and answer session online following the screenings. The ad also streamed live on the campaign’s website at 8 p.m. Thursday night.