“Game Change,” the movie that explores John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate, debuted over the weekend on HBO and provided an entertaining, if not occasionally insightful look into the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the 2008 presidential campaign. All the major touchstones involving Sarah Palin are there — the decision to select her, her convention speech, the Charlie Gibson interview, the Katie Couric interview, the vice-presidential debate, and Palin’s efforts to give her own concession speech on election night — but it was fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes drama recreated. I’m sure some liberties were taken, but the film not only jibes with the reports coming out of the McCain/Palin camp during the election, but both Steve Schmidt — McCain’s Chief Political Adviser — and Nicolle Wallace — a senior adviser in charge of prepping Palin — have both come out since the movie aired to back the veracity of the account.
The gist: Sarah Palin was even more dumb than previously believed; she was paranoid, distrustful, petulant, and often stubbornly refused to participate in her own campaign, staring catatonically at her phone during interview prep. She was far more interested in her own political career than that of McCain’s; she squabbled and ignored her advisers; attempted to set her own path, and she may have even had some mental problems. The portrayal is not, however, completely unflattering: It’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for her as she’s watching Tina Fey rip her apart on “Saturday Night Live,” and she did have a legitimate beef with the way the media picked on her family.
In the technical department, Julliane Moore was a great Sarah Palin, Ed Harris was a weak John McCain, and Woody Harrelson — as Steve Schmidt — stole the entire movie.
The biggest takeaway from the movie was that John McCain — who still stands by his selection choice — allowed himself to be persuaded by his advisers because he didn’t otherwise stand a chance in the election. He would’ve preferred to choose Joseph Lieberman. Ultimately, McCain didn’t like the direction his campaign took once Pailn came on board. His involvement with Palin was tenuous, and it seemed at times that he, too, was afraid of confronting her, worried that he’d alienate her and her voting bloc. To his dismay, by the end of his campaign, the racist, xenophobic, and ignorant Tea Party fringe drowned out his message, ruining the reputation of a man that many of us — both conservative and liberal alike — once appreciated (I’d have voted for him in 2004 over John Kerry, for instance).
The more resounding message of the film, however, was not the obvious ignorance of Sarah Palin, but the direction that politics in general took in 2008, one of celebrity over statesmanship. That’s not entirely the fault of Sarah Palin, either. Palin was a choice the Republican ticket was cornered into making to offset the growing celebrity of Barack Obama, at the time a mostly unproven, fairly inexperienced candidate who won the election by virtue of his charisma, his showmanship, his “celebrity,” and a weak opponent from the same party as a very unpopular outgoing president. Sarah Palin was a cynical and necessary reaction: McCain needed someone who could stir up the passions of his base the way Obama stirred up the passions of much of the electorate. He needed a celebrity. The problem for McCain came down to the fact that one celebrity was a constitutional law scholar and the other couldn’t tell you which nations participated in World War I.
However, the consequences forewarned by the 2008 campaign have not yet come to full fruition. The conservative wing of the Republican party has adopted the political rhetoric, the politics of fear, and the ignorance of Sarah Palin, but the candidates in the running — specifically Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — do not have the massive celebrity of Sarah Palin. It’s only a matter of time, however, before a Kardashian runs for office. Politics has become a silly, stupid, petty and almost insignificant game, less about the future and well-meaning of our country and more about television news ratings. It’s a massive reality show, scripted by producers to maximize our entertainment value, while news networks divide us up into sides and provide us with talking points. We’re ten years away from selecting our Presidents Hunger Games-style, and when it happens, we’ll point to the 2008 election as the first sign.
Katniss Everdeen/Annie’s Boobs 2016