TV REVIEW : An Unsubtle ‘Home Front’

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As many a historian has noted, the surest sign of declining empire is when a nation’s internal social structure is decaying even as it wins wars abroad. Bill Moyers and Marc Levin’s “The Home Front” (at 8 tonight on KCET Channel 28) doesn’t take such an overarching view of the American empire, but it is very direct and blunt about the country’s ability to defeat Iraq in the Persian Gulf far outstripping any efforts to defeat the domestic enemies of poverty, urban violence and social neglect.

In fact, “The Home Front” is about as subtle as a Scud. We hear radio reports of devastated Kuwait City, for example, while the camera tracks down equally devastated South Bronx streets. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a pamphlet, condensing the argument that we spend billions abroad while cutting billions at home. Unlike a previous Moyers-Levin collaboration, “The Secret Government,” which was full of analysis to back up the arguments, this feels too simple.

And it is. By looking only at a New York City bleeding from big cutbacks in social services during the days of the U.S.-led ground war in the Gulf, “The Home Front” finds good, stark TV images without inquiring into New York’s special problems. They are, to mention a few, notoriously poor government mismanagement, a shrinking tax-revenue base due to white flight and failing local industry, and a general shift of wealth from the East Coast to the Sun Belt.


The report’s parochialism is puzzling, since a national overview would have enhanced its political impact. Only once, when Moyers notes that 50% of bridges in the United States need repair, do we get a sense of a bigger crisis.

This isn’t to say that the sad stories of Helen and Bob Buchbinder (he’s now on welfare after 30 years in the garment business) or of laid-off librarians, teachers and their affected students aren’t signals of a country going off the tracks. But there’s a more difficult story behind these pictures and beyond a facile liberal or conservative view, a story that doesn’t get told here.