Taking care of business here in Chicago, I found a copy of today’s Wall Street Journal with no apparent owner. I asked a woman nearby if it was hers. “No, go ahead, take it. There probably isn’t any good news in it. But try and find something positive anyway.”
“Positive?” I replied. “Sure! I’m staying positive because there is someone out there who has a track record for turning things around. Who is a proven leader when it comes to fighting corruption and crony capitalism.”
Surprised, she asked “Really? Who?”
When I began to tell her about Governor Sarah Palin’s accomplishments in Alaska, fighting not only Big Oil but also corruption within her own party, she seemed surprised. If only I had a copy of Stephen Bannon’s 2-hour documentary, The Undefeated, to give her right then and there! Or at least direct her to buy her own copy at Walmart beginning Tuesday October 4.
The message of “The Undefeated”, however, is bigger than Palin. As one who has voted Democratic, Republican and Independent, I was riveted by the story that was never told during the 2008 campaign: not only of the decisive Governor, but also of the battle fought by ordinary, hard-working people like single mom Marty Rutherford, and no-nonsense Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Tom Irwin. Like Gov. Palin, Rutherford and Irwin stood up to the corrupt ways of politics in Alaska. When then-Gov. Murkowski fired Irwin because he questioned the unethical behavior of Murkowski’s administration with Big Oil, six others resigned in protest of Irwin’s firing, single mom Rutherford included.
These courageous people–known throughout Alaska as “The Magnificent Seven”, a reference to the famous Western film where 7 men protect a village from bandits—are impressive. In fact, it seems Bannon tells their story because they, too, are “The Undefeated”. Sarah Palin was merely smart enough to hire them back once she became Governor. With these “ordinary” folks, Palin’s administration was able to achieve “extraordinary” results. Working 15-hour days, 7 days a week, Palin led this bi-partisan team in passing two major pieces of legislation, which to this day benefit the residents of Alaska: ACES & AGIA. Alaska’s Clear & Equitable Share gives the citizens of Alaska a fairer share in the profits reeled in by Big Oil.; Alaska Gasline Inducement Act begins the largest private sector energy project in North American history, a pipeline to get energy to Alaska and the Lower 48.
Using news footage from 2007, Bannon shows us a decisive Governor Palin—a Chief Executive who used the power of a line item veto to cut $1-billion from Alaska’s $14-billion budget. This stands in sharp contrast to the bumbling back and forth recently of President Obama with Congressional leaders, fecklessly trying to cut an obscene $14-trillion debt. The President was blaming “corporate jet owners” and “billionaires” for the budget debt and deficits. Again, the contrast was striking: the President playing politics and demagoguery; the Governor on the screen taking action.
Bannon uses Palin’s leadership with the everyday citizens of Alaska –first as City Councilwoman, then Mayor, later as Commissioner of the Alaska Oil & Conservation Commission (AOGCC) and Governor– as a natural prelude to the next chapter: the rise of The Tea Party. After a brief account of the 2008 Presidential campaign, Bannon shows how an onslaught of bogus ethics charges plagued her Governorship, causing her to nearly go bankrupt personally, and paralyzing her administration with wasteful paperwork and exorbitant costs. It was an effort to shut her up and shut her down—a recurring theme in the film.
One group that refused to shut up and sit down was the Tea Party. When Bannon screened the film in Chicago in July, the audience erupted in applause at CNBC Correspondent Rick Santelli’s famous rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile against big government bailouts. His challenge to all Americans: a Chicago-style Tea Party protest, i.e., throwing tea into Lake Michigan. (Thankfully, that never happened.) Santelli’s rant was the spark that ignited people all across the country to stand up and speak out—hence the birth of The Tea Party.
Palin’s resignation allowed her the opportunity to fight for Alaskans and the country from a different plane—with The Tea Party at her back. Bannon ties it all together with footage of Ronald Reagan during a 1976 Presidential Debate in New Hampshire. In an attempt to shut him up, the moderator orders Reagan’s mic turned off. Reagan stands up, grabs the microphone and declares “I paid for this microphone!” They would not take down Reagan; they would not take down Palin; they won’t take down The Tea Party.
Bannon interviews unlikely Palin supporters: Sonnie Johnson, a single mom and Tea Partier who happens to be black, and whose young daughter asked, after seeing Palin, if a woman could be President. “Yeah, honey,” says Johnson, “ a woman can be President.”
He also interviews author Tammy Bruce, a former Democrat, former President of the National Organization for Women (NOW–Los Angeles), and a feminist activist who also happens to be a lesbian. Bruce recognizes in Palin a person of courage and conviction, similar to a Marine—one who is willing to take the dangerous assignment for the good of the whole.
As for the director, Bannon, his use of news and archival film from Palin’s childhood and various administrations, interspersed with dramatizations, are reminiscent of directors like the BBC’s Adrian Malone and PBS’s Sandra Bradley. His style is more dramatic at points, but they drive home the viciousness of the corrupt politicians, bloggers, commentators and pseudo-journalist types.
Some have wrongly assumed “The Undefeated” refers only to Sarah Palin. What they miss—or ignore—is that “the undefeated” is not simply singular. It is plural. The undefeated are those who don’t quit, those who refuse to stop fighting the corrupt, entrenched, cronyism of business and politics for the benefit of We The People. Yes, the undefeated is Sarah Palin. But the undefeated are also the Marty Rutherfords, the Tom Irwins of the world. The Undefeated are the people of all races, generations and political parties who long and fight for decency and honor in their government and lives. Ultimately, the undefeated are the people of The Tea Party.