The new HBO documentary The Swamp has a big surprise: the filmmakers treat Republican congressmen with respect! Where’s the snark? Where’s a narrator sighing a putdown of Florida representative Matt Gaetz, a young firebrand and Trump loyalist? It’s not there!
Gaetz gets the most facetime in this film but Kentucky congressman Thomas Massie and Colorado rep Ken Buck, both Republicans, are also profiled.
The gist of the show is that these guys and a few allies on the Democrat side of the aisle are in D.C. to shake things up and reform the way things are done at the Capitol, especially in terms of fundraising.
Massie defies a GOP stereotype in that he is a fierce environmentalist who drives a Tesla and has a home in Kentucky that gets all its energy from renewable sources. He partners with longtime Democrat congresswoman Barbara Lee in working to rescind the authorization to use military force which Congress gave the president in the wake of 9/11.
Massie also takes the camera crew to the front door of the Republican National Congressional Committee building where, he says, he does not want to depend on that group for campaign money.
Gaetz is seen buddying around with California Democrat Ro Khanna. Gaetz good-naturedly teases Khanna about representing Silicon Valley but not wearing an Apple Watch.
Gaetz also defends former California Democrat representative Katie Hill who resigned after nude photos of her were posted online. He speaks out against her ex’s “revenge porn.” The two are seen sharing a friendly dinner at a D.C. Italian restaurant.
An important contributor to the topic of congressional reform is Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School who offers historical perspective and thoughts on how things should change. Lessig blames former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for igniting Congress’s current obsession with fundraising.
My guess is that The Swamp will be summarily dismissed by some liberal viewers because of the way it treats its Republican subjects. Not exactly an adoring portrayal of Gaetz and company but a relatively even-handed approach. To such individuals who themselves often preach tolerance, I’d suggest you try to tolerate this film. You may hate it—especially Gaetz’s fawning phone calls to Trump—but you may also find a nugget or two of enlightenment about the way Congress works.
The Swamp, co-directed by Daniel DeMauro and Morgan Pehme who collaborated on the 2017 Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone, is currently being shown on HBO and is streaming via HBOMax.