Fair warning: On my refrigerator I have a large magnet with a picture of Sarah Palin and the letters “WTF?”
So I tuned into the controversial HBO movie Game Changer much as Antony showed up at Caesar’s funeral, not to praise but to bury. To be more precise, I had formed a view of Sarah Palin as dumb, vacuous, ignorant, inept in matters of government, manipulative, avaricious and flighty. And of course a liar. As it turns out, at least according to the movie, that list was pretty much spot on as far as it went.
But it also added a few other words to that list: wonderful ( as in mother and wife,) caring, naive, loyal, principled, and most importantly used, abused, betrayed and discarded. I came away almost liking Sarah.
Palinistas don’t like the movie. But they should, because she’s the only one in the whole darn thing who comes out of it as someone you would have dinner with.
The other major character, John McCain’s campaign manager Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) is very happy with his portrayal in the movie. That he thinks he came off well tells us all we need to know about this shallow asshole. The movie is a searing indictment of him and his cynical posse including the reckless and irresponsible John McCain (Ed Harris) and the snotty and inadequate Nicole Wallace. Most of all, it is a searing indictment of us-both Republicans and Democrats, who instead of going for substance went for style, because each party put up a celebrity with whom we could identify (or asprired to identify with.)
First Schmidt. According to the movie, Palin was chosen because they needed a woman to get women voters and they needed a conservative to get conservative voters. Apparently, the recognition that she was only the heartbeat of a 72 year old from the presidency came to them late in the movie when they were looking for reasons to explain their collective failure and chose Palin. They put her forward completely unvetted with fewer background checks than you’d give the guy behind the counter at the local 7-11. Indeed, it was worse than that. In the screening interview with Palin, which was considerable easier than the one I got joining my last health club, they warned her at one point that the national press would dig into her life and pull it apart, and she reassured them that she was used to tough press from her time in Alaska. At this point, anyone with a brain would have shouted, “Stop!” If this person thinks the local press in a red state backwater and the Washington Post are the same thing, she has no business getting within a mile of the Washington Post. Instead, Schmidt and his crew just look at each other and shrug.
Apparently, they thought that they could transform Sarah Palin into whatever they wanted her to be, their own personal Eliza Doolittle. In six days, while she campaigned day and night across the country. Well, at least that’s what they tried to do. When they realized she didn’t know any history or economics, e.g., who the prime minister of England was or what he did, instead of fessing up and sending her home kindly, they pulled in a dozen experts who tried to cram everything in. And from the looks in the movie, at first Sarah tried, taking notes furiously and cramming until late at night with notecards and sitting patiently while they changed her clothes, her hair and her make-up. To her credit, she figured out it was impossible before they did, and stopped the madness. In the movie, this is portrayed as her refusing to listen to reason. I would argue she was the only one who had a clue about what was reasonable. That’s why she stopped cramming and instead started doing the two things she knew how to do: Work a crowd and raise money. And she did that very well.
Yes, in the movie Palin comes across as ignorant. Probably because she is. And the movie has Schmidt and Wallace come across as sympathetic. Two poor people screwed by a difficult woman who just would not shut up and do as she was told (by her betters, e.g., them.) Both get to make high minded speeches to the camera about how she’s not ready to be president. Nicole cries when she tells Steve she didn’t vote for McCain because of Palin. Awwwww. That these guys seem sympathetic for a second is a tribute to the director and cinematographer, who manipulate us by making Schmidt and Wallace seem more like us. In the movie, they sucker us with their appearance and schtick. Just like Obama and Palin did in the election. Darn, we fell for it again!
But look past that veneer for a moment to the underlying truth. They did a stupid thing, compounded it by asking her to take on an impossible task, threw her under the bus when she inevitably failed. And now, they are doing it again. They are whining and making sure everyone knows it wasn’t their fault that things went so badly.
But it was. Not Sarah’s. She did the best she could with what she had to work with.