Stuart Klawans on radical filmmaker Leo Hurwitz; John Nichols on the primary fight for Blanche Lincoln’s Senate seat.


TEA PARTY TEXAS: This just in: Texas Republicans hate Washington! Nearly 70 percent of those who voted in a wild three-way primary for governor on March 2 supported one of two candidates who’ve flirted with secession, demagogued about "states’ rights" and raised the ghost of John C. Calhoun with calls for "nullification and interposition." Fifty-one percent of those anti-Washington votes went to Governor Rick Perry, the two-term incumbent, enough for Perry to avoid a runoff with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who finished a distant second with 30 percent. By the end of the campaign, Perry and tea party insurgent Debra Medina–who came in third with 18 percent of the vote after mounting a surprisingly competitive low-budget race–had turned Hutchison from the state’s most popular politician into a squirrelly symbol of federal "gummint," as the late Molly Ivins used to call it.

Now Perry will face the state’s most popular advocate and practitioner of good gummint in the general election. Former Houston Mayor Bill White, who won more than three-fourths of the Democratic primary vote over six opponents, has been sharply critical of Perry’s antigovernment grandstanding and claims to embody "true Texas values." "We are committed to competence," White said at his victory celebration, "and we consider that a Texas value too." That message sounds like a sure loser in Texas–except that White has out-fundraised Perry, leads in the polls among likely independent voters and stands to benefit from the demographic changes eating away at Texas Republicans’ edge. Whether White can break the GOP’s sixteen-year unbeaten streak in statewide races will depend, more than anything, on whether the majority of Texans are ready, at long last, to stomach the prospect of functional governance.   BOB MOSER

FRONTIER FILMMAKER: The documentary filmmaker and political radical Leo Hurwitz (1909-91) might have been described as a one-man Popular Front, if he hadn’t begun making films several years before the Popular Front was declared. Working with fellow artists who ranged from Paul Strand to Paul Robeson, he directed, photographed or participated in many of the key American leftist films of the 1930s and ’40s, from a "workers’ newsreel" report on the National Hunger March on Washington in 1932 to The Plow That Broke the Plains, Heart of Spain, China Strikes Back and Native Land.

That much is in all the histories, as is Hurwitz’s place on Hollywood’s blacklist. Less well-known is Hurwitz’s role in the early 1950s in helping to develop the type of shot-on-the-scene documentary that’s now standard fare on television (Emergency Ward); his pioneering work in memorializing Auschwitz (The Museum and the Fury, made in 1956 for Film Polski); and his explorations in the 1960s and ’70s of subjects such as the visual arts, the poetry of Hart Crane and the waterfront of his native New York.

So if the culture of the Popular Front (before, during and after) deserves a respectful re-evaluation, as D.D. Guttenplan recently argued in these pages, the full career of Leo Hurwitz is a subject begging for exploration. Fortunately, it’s getting one: a thorough retrospective titled "Leo Hurwitz and the New York School of Documentary Film," on view at Anthology Film Archives in New York City, March 10-19. These are not pictures you can get through Netflix; nor can they be fully appreciated in a living room. You want to gather shoulder-to- shoulder with your fellow moviegoers and see them on Second Avenue. For information:   STUART KLAWANS

DEMOCRATIC SHOWDOWNS: The GOP is not the only party experiencing 2010 primary fights for its soul. Just as highly publicized Republican contests like the Florida Senate race between relatively moderate Governor Charlie Crist and tea party favorite Marco Rubio will help define the direction of the Republicans, so the Arkansas Senate race between corporate-friendly incumbent Blanche Lincoln and populist Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter (who jumped into the race March 1) could set the tone for Democrats.

The Lincoln-Halter race is one of a growing number of Congressional contests between Democratic incumbents who have disappeared into Washington’s murky middle and fired-up populists. For instance, appointed Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, a business-friendly Banking Committee member dismissed by Denver-based author and radio host David Sirota as "an aristocrat/DC insider (who) is being floated by out-of-state special interest cash," faces a challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

"Millions of Americans are losing our jobs, our homes, our health coverage and our savings; yet the US Senate, which is supposed to be the greatest deliberative body in the world, has become a place where good ideas go to die," Romanoff declared in his opening statement at the first primary debate in Denver in February. "It’s become a wholly owned subsidiary of the industries it is supposed to be regulating. It’s a country club where only the richest and most powerful can pay to play." Romanoff says his primary win would send a signal "loud enough even for Washington to hear."

Halter brings a similar message to the Arkansas race, and he adds a twist. With Lincoln’s poll ratings sagging, he suggests the only way a Democrat will keep this Southern seat is by recognizing that "Washington is broken." In a campaign video, Halter slams the Beltway establishment for "bailing out Wall Street with no strings attached, while leaving middle-class Arkansas taxpayers with the bill; protecting insurance company profits instead of protecting patients and lowering health costs; gridlock, bickering and partisan games while unemployment is at a twenty-five-year high." "Enough’s enough!" says Halter.

That aggressive–dare we say angry–message has won Halter an AFL-CIO endorsement and a flood of contributions from frustrated MoveOn and ActBlue activists. Of course, Lincoln is decrying "outside" influence in the May 18 Arkansas primary contest. But Halter’s Arkansas roots and his populist appeal raise the prospect that compromising–and compromised–Democrats will get a loud wake-up call from primary voters who want their party to be a whole lot bolder and blunter about what’s wrong with America and what needs to change.   JOHN NICHOLS

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