Ray Griggs, a conservative Christian filmmaker, releases a new documentary today to 500 theaters. Its title is I Want Your Money, but the message is more like "I Want Your Votes"—for a Republican overhaul of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. To Griggs, the logic, and thus his call, is simple enough: The Obama administration is spending way too much way too fast, and the only way to stop the runaway train of fiscal irresponsibility is to vote in a new crop of thrifty politicians on Nov. 2.
Actually, Griggs would probably like to take things one impossible step further: He'd like to resurrect Ronald Reagan and put the Gipper back in the White House. Griggs makes liberal (oh, the irony of that adjective!) use of Reagan speeches, footage, and soundbites to make his main point: What Griggs perceives as an out-of-control, tax-and-spend government run amok, he believes can only be fixed by a return to Reaganomics—reduced taxes for everyone, drastically curtailed federal spending, and the rest, voila, will take care of itself, just as it did in the 1980s.
The Reagan-vs.-Obama motif so pervades the film that it's literally depicted—via sometimes cheesy, sometimes humorous CGI animated caricatures—three or four times throughout. The first time shows Reagan entering the current day Oval Office to give Obama a lesson in economics. Reagan offers the President jelly beans as an object lesson; Obama declines … then lights up a cigarette while the Gipper gives his fiscal lecture.
The final meeting between the two presidents—you won't believe this—occurs in the boxing ring, with a flabby old Reagan still trying to give the much younger, much fitter Obama more nuggets of financial wisdom. It's no surprise who ends up throwing the preposterous knockout punch. Cue the theme from Rocky.
In a nutshell, Griggs—and the dozens of politicians, economists, and policy wonks he interviews—says the U.S. is on the fast track to socialism (and the word is used frequently in the film), and the only solution is a return to good old capitalism.
It is, in some ways, the antithesis of Michael Moore's 2009 snarky documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. But Griggs can get snarky too: I Want Your Money includes plenty of moments that lampoon not only Obama, but former Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter too. He also targets a few Republicans—notably Richard Nixon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sarah Palin—but saves his sassiest snark for the Dems, like during a snippet from a Nancy Pelosi speech, when a superimposed "B.S. Meter" onscreen goes haywire as she promises "no new deficit spending."
Unfortunately, also like a typical Moore documentary, Griggs plays fast and loose with statistics. Just minutes into the film, he examines the Great Depression and the New Deal—FDR's ambitious (and expensive) response to the nation's woes. Wall Street Journal economist Stephen Moore is interviewed at this point, saying, "The Left has rewritten the history books [into] a fairy tale. Everyone thinks the New Deal was a great success, right? The reality is a little different. If you look at statistics …" He goes on to note that "eight years later [in 1940], the unemployment rate in the United States was still 15 percent! That's 50 percent more Americans unemployed than today. But we still label the New Deal a success!"
Incredulity oozes from Moore as he speaks, but I'm struck by what he doesn't say. When FDR took office in 1933, the national unemployment rate was twenty-four percent—highest in U.S. history. In the wake of the New Deal (and a second "New Deal" in 1934-36), unemployment dipped below 15 percent in 1940—a forty percent drop. By the time the U.S. entered the war, it had dropped to 4.7 percent in 1942, and then 1.2 percent in 1944—but Griggs and Moore don't tell us that.
More astonishing is that Griggs puts up a silly graphic while Moore is talking. The chart (shown at left) depicts FDR on the timeline in 1930—three years before he took office—and the unemployment rate skyrocketing behind him. The graphic then shows the unemployment rate dropping during FDR's eight years as President (with a brief upturn in 1937-38), and still plummeting after he's gone. The chart clearly contradicts what Griggs and Moore are saying; the chart indicates that the New Deal mostly worked.
This happens again late in the film when Griggs, speaking over another nifty chart, says that under Reagan, "unemployment fell in half, to under 5 percent." What he doesn't say is that under Reagan, unemployment initially went up, to 9.7 percent in 1982 and 9.6 in '83, and that it averaged 7.5 percent during Reagan's eight years in office. When Reagan finished his second term, unemployment was at 5.3 percent.
These were the most egregious examples of playing with stats, but more than enough to raise my own B.S. Meter and lower my trust. Throughout the film, I kept asking, "Is this the whole truth? Or has this information also gone through the spin cycle?"
But what hadn't been spun were the snippets of Reagan speeches, letting them stand alone. They were powerful reminders of what a great communicator—and President—he was. And a call to bring America back to those days—to those ideals and that prosperity—certainly has its merits.
The $400,000 film could have turned out to be just an Obama bash-fest, but to Griggs' credit, it's not that. He doesn't go out of his way to say anything nice about the sitting President, but it's not entirely a Republican love-in, either. Griggs holds George W. Bush responsible for many of America's current financial woes, including the recession and rampant spending for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Griggs says Dubya and Congress got their economic policies "half right" with their tax cuts, "but missed the other half: controlled spending." And he acknowledges that much of the debt that Obama inherited was due to GWB's spending. But now he blames Obama for that debt continuing to spin out of control due to his "socialist" programs—taxing the rich to help the poor.
The film plods along in places, and would've been much better off without the silly CGI animations. But some of the interviews are compelling—especially with Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Star Parker (founder, Center for Urban Renewal & Education), and Steve Forbes (editor-in-chief, Forbes); some bring Scripture and Christian ideas into their comments and calls for change. But Griggs gets the last word: "It all comes down to this: Do we really want to grow government? Or do we want to grow ourselves into the people that God created us to be? Remember, it's your money they're spending." And then, as the closing credits roll, it's Griggs again: "In the time it took to watch this film, the national debt increased by $182 million. It's time for a real change."
He's probably even willing to give you a ride to the voting booth.Discussion starters
- What do you think the film gets right? What do you think it gets wrong? When you watch a documentary like this, do you think it's totally objective? Discuss.
- The film makes Obama out to be a socialist. Is that fair? Are the tenets of socialism entirely wrong? What's wrong with taxing the rich to help the poor?
- Several of those interviewed brought their Christian beliefs into the discussion. One said that socialism is "anti-scriptural" and that it violates the 10th Commandment, about not coveting. Do you agree? Why or why not?
- Did the film affect your own decision-making for the upcoming elections? If so, how? If not, why not?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
I Want Your Money is rated PG for thematic elements, brief language, and smoking. There's very little bad language—a "hell" or a "damn" or two. President Obama is shown smoking a cigarette in one CGI animated sequence. Younger children would be bored by its thematic content, but it's a good discussion starter for teens (especially those now old enough to vote) and adults.
Photos © Freestyle Releasing.
Copyright © 2010 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.