Less than 48 hours before President Barack Obama leaves office, CNN will air an intimate tribute told through the workdays and accounts of key White House staff members.
But however worthy it may be, this two-hour documentary, airing Wednesday at 8 p.m. , may face a wary reception.
For those who have disagreed with Obama’s policies and even questioned his citizenship the past eight years, this film is unlikely at such a late date to stir a reappraisal of either his legacy or character.
Meanwhile, for others, the film will be yet another painful reminder of what will soon be over and what might have been.
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Presumably without meaning to plumb the depths of despair gripping Obama’s supporters, the program strikes an elegiac chord with its title: The End: Inside the Last Days of the Obama White House.
Spanning the past two months, The End ends, fittingly, with Obama’s farewell address last week in Chicago.
It begins on Election Day, as Hillary Clinton’s electoral-college defeat by Donald Trump is received at the White House with shock and grief.
But then we see Obama bucking up his thunderstruck staff.
“Everybody is sad when their side loses an election,” the president says. “But we all have to remember we’re all on one team.”
Chief speechwriter Cody Keenan, one of the figures followed through the documentary, crafted the president’s magnanimous remarks. In his windowless office in the White House basement, he concedes those words are “obviously not the ones I wanted to be writing.”
Another recurring character, press secretary Josh Earnest, gathers his crew to prep for a news conference as they scramble for grounding in the flood of events.
“Just don’t look at Twitter,” cracks one of his fellow writers and they all laugh.
Nothing in particular is cited from the tweets Trump has made part of his routine.
“That’s a good rule for life,” Earnest replies instead.
Along with tying up the many loose ends of Obama’s presidency, these busy last weeks are devoted to arranging an efficient, secure handoff to his successor.
“Our job is to turn it over to them in as good a shape as possible,” says Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. (All agree that the transition team of President George W. Bush set a high standard for cooperation and comity that the Obama administration aspires to meet as it vacates.)
But there are other, less weighty tasks. Keenan and his staff must hatch a collection of puns for Obama’s eighth annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkeys (the Chief Executive can’t be expected to wing it).
Then, in a welcome antic moment, the fortunate fowl — Tater and Tot — are seen prior to the ceremony in their luxe D.C. accommodations: a suite at the Willard Intercontinental hotel.
As the days count down, the film’s participants reflect on what they have experienced in bittersweet terms.
Keenan recalls the nation’s crisis state in 2009 when Obama took office. He confides that many White House newbies were alarmed.
“The president was the one with the cool head who told us all, ‘Read some FDR (whose administration confronted the Great Depression and World War II, among other challenges). See what he told people when it was bleak and when they were scared.’ ”
Counting their victories, the film’s subjects note with pride the Affordable Care Act — and think back on the brawl that nearly derailed it.
“What I learned,” says Jarrett, “was how willing people in this town were to put their short-term political interests far ahead of what’s good for the country.”
Of course, even as this show premieres, the president-elect and other foes of Obama’s healthcare law have already rallied as never before to carry out their vendetta.
Little wonder that The End, despite its good intentions, will strike some of its viewers as being less about the Obama era it recognizes than about the two-month run-up to a change they dread that starts with Friday’s swearing-in.
For those viewers, The End spells the end of the Obama presidency, and the end of so much more.