Our Brand Is Crisis

As Rachel Boynton's deeply disturbing documentary makes all too clear, American-style democracy isn't the only political export the U.S. has to offer troubled nations. Wealthy candidates can also purchase the services of an all-American consulting team to manage their campaigns and help spread the fine American art of spin control and negative campaigning...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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As Rachel Boynton's deeply disturbing documentary makes all too clear, American-style democracy isn't the only political export the U.S. has to offer troubled nations. Wealthy candidates can also purchase the services of an all-American consulting team to manage their campaigns and help spread the fine American art of spin control and negative campaigning around the world. Boynton's film follows the 2002 Bolivian presidential campaign of Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada, a wealthy businessman who previously held the nation's top office from 1993 to 1997. Goni is very proud of the fact that during his first presidency he established social security and national health-care systems, but he claims his greatest achievement was a "capitalization" program that, according to his supporters, opened Bolivian businesses to foreign investment. According to his many critics, however, Goni sold out his nation's most valuable resources to foreign investors to secure international loans, and the few jobs he created went to foreign workers. For many, Goni failed miserably in his promises to ease poverty and cap the soaring unemployment rate. He remained widely perceived as an arrogant elitist who would do nothing to quell growing unrest among the country's indigenous people — a poor, underrepresented majority who subsequently became a strong political force. To help fix his "perception problem," Goni enlisted the help of GCS, a "full-service consulting firm" of Democrats (the "C" stands for Carville, as in James) dedicated to enabling what chief strategist Jeremy Rosner calls "progressive politics and foreign policy for profit" in foreign countries. GCS pollster Stan Greenberg calls it "progressive globalization," before describing with amazing candor the fear-mongering strategy GCS has devised for Goni: He must convince the electorate that if they don't vote for Goni, Bolivia will be plunged into economic, social and moral ruin. In short, GCS must make the word "crisis" the Goni campaign's "brand." But Goni is just one of 11 candidates, two of whom are positioned to give him a run for his money: Evo Morales, the popular indigenous leader of the left-wing MAS party; and Manfred Reyes Villa, the popular mayor of Cochabamba. To counter their mounting popularity, GCS embarks on a series of negative campaign ads that fall just short of character assassination. Gauging their success with innumerable focus groups drawn from all sections of Bolivian society, the strategists of GCS hone their attack as election day approaches. The result and its tragic aftermath will come as no surprise to anyone who's picked up a newspaper in the past few years. What's suspenseful — and so troubling — is seeing exactly how far the "progressives" of GCS are willing to go to put a decidedly unpopular candidate back in office, regardless of what it will mean for the future of the country and for Bolivian democracy itself.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: As Rachel Boynton's deeply disturbing documentary makes all too clear, American-style democracy isn't the only political export the U.S. has to offer troubled nations. Wealthy candidates can also purchase the services of an all-American consulting team to… (more)

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