To be fair, Ray Griggs’ “I Want Your Money,” a self-financed documentary on out-of-control spending in Washington, is not an unbiased examination of government spendiing. The relief is it’s not trying to be; viewers are therefore never left with that mendacious feeling of manipulation that comes from watching politically-loaded “neutral” examinations of hot-button topics. Griggs’ film is, in fact, unapologetically conservative in tone. It also happens to be fair, honest, and compelling, proving that politics and ethics do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Griggs, who is the co-writer, director and narrator of the film, has stated in interviews that his impetus for creating the film was an alarming recognition that things in Washington were spiraling out of control. Griggs has come to the conclusion that, very simply, Reagan was right. Ultimately, Americans choose between a behemoth-sized government that seeks influence and, in extreme cases, control over individual citizens’ choices and lives, or one that seeks to remain limited and serves more as a facilitator of economic opportunity and a protector from tyranny than as a nanny provider.
The most compelling aspects of the film include the conservative tone (particularly from a man who makes his living in Hollywood), and the visual aesthetics Griggs chooses to employ to make his point. Beginning with the decidedly small-government, conservative message, it is interesting and — quite enjoyable — to hear time and again throughout the film that the conservative movement today seeks a return to the basic principles of the nation’s founding — limited government, economic opportunity, freedom from tyranny, individual rights. Bolstered by interviews with distinguished right-leaning policy makers and pundits — including Newt Gingrich, Ken Blackwell, Steve Forbes, Lee Edwards, Star Parker, and Thaddeus McCotter — the history of conservatism and the vision conservatives have for the future of the nation is on full, eloquent display. It is clear after watching the film that conservative leaders today are well-educated, principled and in love with the basic experiment that set the country in motion a few hundred years ago. It’s no secret that Reagan stands as an intellectual grandfather to these ideals and Griggs does a fine job of reminding the viewer of this fact; clips of Reagan’s speeches feature prominently as the foil to some of the more preposterous stump speeches from the past several years.
Reagan is also a major player in the second interesting aspect of the film — computer-animated caricatures of past and present presidents and policymakers designed by Mad Magazine’s Tom Richmond. Reagan is the all-knowing instructor of the group, trying to teach them a little something about what makes the country function in an economically sound way. This choice by Griggs — with animated scenes interspersed throughout between clips of stump speeches and policy wonk interviews — is reminiscent of high-school civics classes, where documentaries were designed to be fun and cutting-edge in an effort to appeal to, and sink in with, the emerging youth vote.
This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film. It is intended, unabashedly, as a counter to propaganda from the left side of the aisle. It is designed to appeal to a young audience, and it achieves that goal. The seamless editing presents the most compelling and interesting moments of the many interviews, and the historical footage is sharply utilized as proof that the “progressive” ideas of today are merely rehashed, borderline-socialist ideas of the past.
Ultimately, however, as its title — “I Want Your Money” — suggests, Griggs’ film is about money and the differences in how conservatives and progressives view the economy. He closes the film with a little reminder that in the time it took to watch the film — a little over an hour and a half — the national debt increased by an estimated $182 million.
The film shows conservatism is rooted in optimism about the future, while progressivism is rooted in pessimism about the future. Had Griggs gone a little further down this philosophical road, his film may have made an even stronger impact. To paraphrase Griggs in the film, the decision between these competing ideologies is fundamental to the future of the country, something many politicians on the right are beginning to vocalize.
Here’s hoping Griggs’ film gets a little attention outside the choir.
Sarah Lee is an Atlanta native and freelance writer living and working in Washington, D.C.