Politicians Shouldn’t Play With Pandora’s Box
I didn’t have any plans to see the HBO movie Game Change. At least not until it was released for DVD distribution and I could get a copy from the library or from Netflix. So I figured it would be a while before I’d be able to say anything about the flick. But through a series of fortunate coincidences the family and I picked the perfect weekend to go away for a jaunt to Branson, Missouri. Not much for Branson’s general entertainment flavor, we spent most nights of our weekend at the resort in our room. We were channel surfing when we found HBO and discovered the movie had recently started. We saw Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and, realizing our good fortune, we settled in to watch the show the rest of the show.
We came away from the movie highly impressed. I’ve seen Tina Faye do Sarah Palin and loved the campy mockery of the Republican Party’s former Vice President running mate. But Ms. Moore’s performance was a dead ringer for Ms. Palin. The performance was so doppelganger perfect I’d bet her family had to do a double take. The accent and mannerisms were so spot-on for the former Alaska Governor that I often forgot that I was watching somebody’s interpretation of actual events and not actual events. Ed Harris does a respectable job as John McCain. Watching Woody Harrelson play Steve Schmidt, the senior campaign strategist and advisor Mr. McCain, was a bit of a stretch. But Mr. Harrelson’s performance was very much enjoyable.
I was there to see the rise of Ms. Palin as Arizona Senator John McCain named her as his running mate. I watched Ms. Palin’s very first address to the public as the official second to Mr. McCain and wondered what could have been her appeal to so many conservatives. I saw the interviews she performed with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric and summed her up as an intellectual light weight with little interest in national or global current political events. I saw Ms. Palin’s speeches to her admiring fans. I heard her words full of conservative rhetoric and I heard the rancor and disdain for anyone who did not agree with her unique way of looking at the world. I heard Ms. Palin tell people about her lipstick and her pit bull attitude and her tenacity. But never once did I hear Ms. Palin talk about her vision or plan for the future and for things to come.
But I also heard all the rumors about all the difficulties dealing with the prima donna from Wasilla, Alaska. The team of people that vetted, or more appropriately failed to vet, Ms. Palin had to deal with the fact that they had figuratively reached into the proverbial Pandora’s Box and unleashed misery onto the world in the form of an egotistical ignoramus. The stories of conflicts between Ms. Palin and her handlers appeared in the media on a regular basis. What actually happened after her infamously unfavorable appearance with Ms. Couric? What was behind all the talk that she was depressed? What was the deal with the wardrobe investment? What could have possibly been the sequence of events that led to her one and only debate performance? What happened on the night that Mr. McCain lost his bid for the White House to Mr. Obama? Game Change fills in a lot of the holes.
If you loved Ms. Palin before the movie there’s little doubt that you wouldn’t love her after. Then again, if you didn’t care for Ms. Palin before the movie there’s not much to sway your opinion. The movie isn’t meant to change your opinion either way. We see an unflattering story about Ms. Palin’s struggle with the demands of running for presidency. We see a story about people coming to terms with the fact that they may have done a deal with the devil in order to give their team the edge in its all or nothing bid for the nation’s highest office. We get a small glimpse of the character of the woman who was so intent on helping Mr. McCain achieve fame. Or then again, we get a glimpse at the character of a woman intent on making her own stab at notoriety.
The movie gives a glimpse of what life must have been like to participate in a presidential political campaign that people on the inside know is fatally flawed from its very beginning and cursed to lose. Mr. McCain, desperate to overcome the political strengths and superstardom of the man who could become America’s first black President. Running a conservative campaign in the wake of the aftermath of George “Dubya” Bush’s administration Mr. McCain was at a very distinct disadvantage. Mr. McCain could see that he wasn’t going to win anything based on conservative political principles. He needed something that would significantly change the race to his favor. What would pull the race back to his side? How could an old white geezer pull the spotlight back on himself?
Mr. McCain made the choice to put his campaign back on top by hooking up with a charismatic young thing that the conservative faithful could quickly learn to love. In all honesty Mr. McCain took a seriously big gamble that few rational men would take. The rest became history. Sarah Palin was actually picked to be our next Vice President of the United States. After all of this time it is still an unsettling thought. If nothing else the movie is a stark reminder of what some of us are willing to do to win a presidential campaign.