7 Streaming Political Docs To Make You Feel a Tiny Bit Better About 2016

Good news, America! There are only only a few days left before one of the most acrid, acidic, off-putting presidential elections in modern history finally collapses into a sure-to-be-unsatisfying end. But if you thought 2016 was tough, there are decades worth of campaign documentaries to remind us that, as bad as things have been this year, American electoral politics has pretty much always been a big-bucks muck-fest. We found the seven best available on streaming, so check them out while you can, and cheer up—after all, there are only 48 months left until our next presidential election!

A Perfect Candidate (1996)

A sort of spiritual sequel to The War Room (below), this equally up-close account of Oliver North’s 1994 U.S. Senate run focuses on North’s advisers, who employ countless spins and stunts to help transform their cult-of-personality candidate—a vacuous, off-brand demagogue—into a viable contender. But it’s also a rich reminder of just how ugly (and prescient) things got in the mid-’90s, a period in which trumped-up culture wars overrode actual policy discussion, and in which a rightfully suspicious press corps was undermined by overly rah-rah partisan outlets. Thankfully, such days are long behind us now! (Available on Fandor)

A sort of spiritual sequel to The War Room (below), this equally up-close account of Oliver North’s 1994 U.S. Senate run focuses on North’s advisers, who employ countless spins and stunts to help transform their cult-of-personality candidate—a vacuous, off-brand demagogue—into a viable contender. But it’s also a rich reminder of just how ugly (and prescient) things got in the mid-’90s, a period in which trumped-up culture wars overrode actual policy discussion, and in which a rightfully suspicious press corps was undermined by overly rah-rah partisan outlets. Thankfully, such days are long behind us now! (Available on Fandor)

The War Room (1993)

Nearly a quarter-century after its release, this instantly essential, Oscar-nominated chronicle of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign feels like a ’90s-set version of The Little Rascals: Awww, look at young George Stephanopoulos spin-and-grin his way through another post-debate TV appearance! Check out James Carville’s Southern-fried speechifying and Funky-Bunchified hat! Beneath all of that nostalgia-nudging charm, though, is a still-revealing look at the way campaign narratives are manipulated and disseminated: Watching Carville try to feed an anti-GOP story to the press—or witnessing Stephanopoulos warn calmly threaten the career of a Clinton foe—is a reminder that, even in an age of 24-7 election coverage, many of the forces and decisions that shape modern politics will be kept forever from our view. (Available on Hulu through November 11th; also on iTunes and Amazon)

Nearly a quarter-century after its release, this instantly essential, Oscar-nominated chronicle of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign feels like a ’90s-set version of The Little Rascals: Awww, look at young George Stephanopoulos spin-and-grin his way through another post-debate TV appearance! Check out James Carville’s Southern-fried speechifying and Funky-Bunchified hat! Beneath all of that nostalgia-nudging charm, though, is a still-revealing look at the way campaign narratives are manipulated and disseminated: Watching Carville try to feed an anti-GOP story to the press—or witnessing Stephanopoulos warn calmly threaten the career of a Clinton foe—is a reminder that, even in an age of 24-7 election coverage, many of the forces and decisions that shape modern politics will be kept forever from our view. (Available on Hulu through November 11th; also on iTunes and Amazon)

Mitt (2014)

The result of six years of filming, Mitt tags along with Republican candidate Mitt Romney—a guy who could never puncture his reputation as a stiff-talking, chilly gazillionaire-bot—as he makes his way through the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections (both of which seem like civics lessons in civility compared to the last few months). In contrast to his public persona, Mitt depicts Mitt as a surprisingly warm, admirably cool-headed pragmatist who clearly hates seeing his family members getting dragged through the campaign. Mitt likely wouldn’t have changed voters’ minds, but it’s a reminder of the ways that the vaguely constructed “conventional wisdom” about a candidate can obscure more nuances, harder-to-distill truths. (Available on Netflix)

The result of six years of filming, Mitt tags along with Republican candidate Mitt Romney—a guy who could never puncture his reputation as a stiff-talking, chilly gazillionaire-bot—as he makes his way through the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections (both of which seem like civics lessons in civility compared to the last few months). In contrast to his public persona, Mitt depicts Mitt as a surprisingly warm, admirably cool-headed pragmatist who clearly hates seeing his family members getting dragged through the campaign. Mitt likely wouldn’t have changed voters’ minds, but it’s a reminder of the ways that the vaguely constructed “conventional wisdom” about a candidate can obscure more nuances, harder-to-distill truths. (Available on Netflix)

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008)

In the ’80s, political operator Lee Atwater had it all: A prime perch in Washington, D.C.; a near-academic expertise in dirty tricks; and a close (if uncomfortable) relationship with George H.W. Bush, whom Atwater helped make president, thanks in part to the infamous, horrific Willie Horton ad. Boogie Man wrestles with Atwater’s almost comically surface-level contradictions—this was a guy worshiped the blues, yet who was also responsible for some of most overtly racist political stagecraft of the 20th century—while also tactfully making the case that his motivations may lie more in empty-calorie ambition than deep-rooted ideology. It’s an engrossing, sometimes unbelievably comical look at just how far cynicism will get you—with a third-act comeuppance that has to be seen to be believed. (Available on iTunes and Amazon)

In the ’80s, political operator Lee Atwater had it all: A prime perch in Washington, D.C.; a near-academic expertise in dirty tricks; and a close (if uncomfortable) relationship with George H.W. Bush, whom Atwater helped make president, thanks in part to the infamous, horrific Willie Horton ad. Boogie Man wrestles with Atwater’s almost comically surface-level contradictions—this was a guy worshiped the blues, yet who was also responsible for some of most overtly racist political stagecraft of the 20th century—while also tactfully making the case that his motivations may lie more in empty-calorie ambition than deep-rooted ideology. It’s an engrossing, sometimes unbelievably comical look at just how far cynicism will get you—with a third-act comeuppance that has to be seen to be believed. (Available on iTunes and Amazon)

Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed (2004)

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to Congress; four years later, in an even bolder move, she decided to run for president on the Democratic ticket, entering one of the most heated political races of all time. (And somehow garnering Biz Markie’s anachronistic vote.) Chisholm ’72 alternates between stirring, deeply entertaining archival footage of Chisholm at work on the campaign trail—where she never thinks twice about calling out her opponents, even if they were fellow Democrats—and retrospective interviews that were conducted before her death in 2005. Though she never got a place on the ticket, and though her campaign at times seemed spectacularly ill-advised, Chisholm forced her party (and her country) to pay attention to her—and Chisholm ’72 forces viewers to take stock of her admirable legacy, and marvel at the intra-party obstacles she was forced to overcome. (Available on iTunes and Amazon)

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to Congress; four years later, in an even bolder move, she decided to run for president on the Democratic ticket, entering one of the most heated political races of all time. (And somehow garnering Biz Markie’s anachronistic vote.) Chisholm ’72 alternates between stirring, deeply entertaining archival footage of Chisholm at work on the campaign trail—where she never thinks twice about calling out her opponents, even if they were fellow Democrats—and retrospective interviews that were conducted before her death in 2005. Though she never got a place on the ticket, and though her campaign at times seemed spectacularly ill-advised, Chisholm forced her party (and her country) to pay attention to her—and Chisholm ’72 forces viewers to take stock of her admirable legacy, and marvel at the intra-party obstacles she was forced to overcome. (Available on iTunes and Amazon)

Street Fight (2005)

Before Cory Booker was speaking at the Democratic National Convention, before he was a US Senator, before he was rescuing freezing dogs—hell, before he was running into a burning building to save a woman trapped inside—he was just a city councilman running for mayor of Newark against astronomical odds and an entrenched political machine. That 2002 election is the focus of Street Fight, a documentary chronicling Booker’s Tommy Carcetti-like quest to overturn cronyism and lead a city that didn’t quite trust him yet. Come for the look at a real-life political paladin, stay for the origin of a personal mythology that’s made him one of his party’s brightest medium-term prospects. (Available on Netflix and Amazon Video)

Before Cory Booker was speaking at the Democratic National Convention, before he was a US Senator, before he was rescuing freezing dogs—hell, before he was running into a burning building to save a woman trapped inside—he was just a city councilman running for mayor of Newark against astronomical odds and an entrenched political machine. That 2002 election is the focus of Street Fight, a documentary chronicling Booker’s Tommy Carcetti-like quest to overturn cronyism and lead a city that didn’t quite trust him yet. Come for the look at a real-life political paladin, stay for the origin of a personal mythology that’s made him one of his party’s brightest medium-term prospects. (Available on Netflix and Amazon Video)

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