TV Review: 'Choice' focuses on candidates' character

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If you're sick of campaign commercials on TV -- and who isn't at this point? -- PBS's "Frontline: The Choice 2008" (9 p.m. Tuesday, WQED) provides a worthwhile tonic as it strips away the finger-pointing and political hatchet jobs to offer biographical profiles of the two presidential candidates.

This two-hour program on the two nominees, presented every four years since 1988, doesn't attempt to compare their policies or fact check one's distortions about the other. Instead, it tries and largely succeeds at getting back to basics and answering the question: Who are these two guys who want to be president of the United States?

In the process, "The Choice" conducts a valuable service in these highly partisan times: It shows that U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is not nearly the radical rabid Republicans would make him out to be, and that U.S. Sen. John McCain is not the mere "sidekick" demagoguery-spouting Democrats suggest. More than anything, it shows them both to be smart tacticians with presidential aspirations that have been years in the making.


'Frontline: The Choice 2008'
  • When: 9 p.m. tomorrow, WQED.

"The Choice" gives a sense of the character of both men. It shows Obama as a deliberative, post-Civil Rights leader, who, when he became the first African-American editor of Harvard's Law Review, didn't populate the editor's ranks with those who thought and looked like him. Instead, he put more conservatives than progressives in top positions, garnering more grief from those on the left than on the right.

The program also traces the history of McCain's dissent with his fellow Republicans ("the struggle for McCain's heart and soul"), suggesting that he considered switching parties following his failed 2000 presidential nomination bid.

"The Choice" shows the contrasting temperaments of these two men, using their vice presidential picks as emblematic of their personalities: Obama took a safer, more conservative approach by picking U.S. Sen. Joe Biden; McCain played to the non-conformist side of his personality by picking little-known Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

"The Choice" covers the assorted talking point scandals associated with each candidate -- The Rev. Jeremiah Wright and '60s radical William Ayers for Obama; The Keating Five mess and marital infidelity for McCain -- but it doesn't dwell on them. At times "The Choice" allows the candidates to tell their own stories, using sound clips from the audio books of their autobiographies.

Even if you think you know everything about McCain and Obama, "The Choice" reminds voters of the two men beneath the attacks. It draws no conclusions, but it offers insights about the men who are often obscured beneath dueling accusations, promises and slogans.


Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv .


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