American Culture

"Game Change" movie changes my opinion of Sarah

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.


21 replies »

  1. I was willing to look at McCain as a candidate, largely because he was a moderate, but when they put Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency, that immediately turned me off. No way.

  2. Your post is honestly about the most sympathetic take on Sarah Palin with which I could sympathize. I still don’t know that I’d have dinner with her, though. She may have been a poor choice and thrown out with the day old rolls, but she’s solely responsible for creating her own Mama Grizzly brand.

  3. I voted and defended sarah in 2008 , but after her visit to boston 2years ago when she stated Paul Revere rode to warn the BRITISH i began to wonder about her and her education. If 1/2 the film is true or accurate and we know what we saw on katie couric and other interviews that campaign has no one to blame but each other and she needs to go back to school and study this time and learn something starting with basic american history and geography….

  4. Ummm. I saw the movie, too, and I hear what you’re saying, and can kind of understand where you’re coming from. Kind of. But just barely.

    Yes, the people who brought Palin into the national limelight when she had no business being there are certainly to blame, but unlike you, I don’t see Palin as a hapless victim, here. To me, Palin demonstrated just about the worst quality any human being can have: unadulterated hubris.

    Look, I think I’m reasonably well educated. I know what the Fed is, and I know that the UK’s head of government is the Prime Minister. I even know his name and that he’s in big political trouble right now because of his ties to Rupert Murdoch. I can find Afghanistan on a map, and even tell you, off the top of my head, where to find Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif. Oh, and Kabul too. But if someone asked me if I were ready to be President of the United States, I’d laugh at the silliness of the question. Of COURSE I’m not ready. I have had no experience, whatsoever, in national politics. There’s no way in hell I could learn everything I needed to learn about how to function as POTUS in the time it takes to be in a campaign.

    But Sarah Palin thought she’d be great at the job, even though she exhibits little or no educational accomplishment, precious little knowledge of even the national scene, let alone international issues, and had less than two years of administrative experience in a weak governor state, where no one pays taxes because oil covers pretty much all the revenues needed, for a population about as large as the greater Greensboro, NC area.

    If Palin became a laughingstock, she brought it on herself when she didn’t laugh at the person who called and asked her if she’d be interested in running for VP of the United States. The Palins of the world always believe that, despite evidence to the contrary, they are very, very special, and deserve jobs for which they are not remotely prepared.

    I have no sympathy for her, whatsoever.

  5. JS

    I absolutely agree that she had no business being there and helped bring it on herself. However, I don’t know how you can expect a stupid and ignorant person to make a decision that requires intelligence and knowledge.

    I once worked with a guy named Steve who was as color blind as a dog. When the telephone guys rewired our offices they left behind a foot long section of wires of all different colors–green, orange, green and orange, etc. We teased him that we would train him to see colors and we would give Steve pop quizzes where we held out a wire and asked him the color. Years later I found out that after he got it wrong, he would take the wire home with him and ask his family what color it was, because he was convinced that we were making it up. In other words, he didnt know he was color blind because he didnt know what colors were.

    Sarah Palin is too stupid to know she’s stupid, and too uninformed to know what she doesn’t know. And by the way, simple math says that half the people in the U.S. are below average intelligence, i.e., dumb, so it’s no real surprise that 60 million people identified with her. They don’t know who the head of the U.K. is either and think Kandahar was where Superman had his Fortress of Solitude. Asking any of them, including Sarah, if she knows enough to be president is like asking Steve which colors he doesn’t see.

    Of course you and I know we’re not qualified to be President. But that’s an unfair comparison.

    (By the way, in hindsight, we should have dumped Barack for the same reason. He knows a lot more than Sarah, but not enough.)

  6. O’B : excuse me but i was trying to be somewhat charitable to sarah and didnt want to call her stupid i tried to be diplomatic by saying go back to school and study this time THE GRADE LEVEL I WAS PUSHING WAS 3RD OR 4TH and maybe by the time she graduates from college this time in approx. 13YEARS she might know about ENGLAND , KOREA and PAUL REVERE she is a DOPE and the people that picked her and checked her out are as dumb if not worse….I dont blame McCain!!!

  7. @ Otherwise: It’s an interesting proposition you put forth that stupid people aren’t responsible for believing that they can do just about anything because they’re too stupid to know otherwise. I’ll give that some thought. I think there’s some merit in what you say. But I’m not sure there’s enough to change my mind about Palin.

    I mean, do stupid people think they can do brain surgery? Or design microchips? I doubt they do. And yet, we know of at least one who thought she’d be just hunky dory as President of the United States of America. Do weak people think they can bench 350 pounds? Probably not. Believing one can do what one is not qualified to do is hubris. At least in my book.

    As for Obama, I think he’s done reasonably well considering the forces arrayed against him. The only thing I blame him for is that he failed to realize, early on, that his opponents are not reasonable men and women, and that the only way to fight them is to use the bully pulpit he has at his disposal. That was naive on his part, and he deserves blame for that — or so I believe.

    He didn’t have enough experience to avoid his own optimism, but at least he has brains, and I’m fairly sure he knows how to find, say, Japan on a map.

  8. Otherwise: You raise a fine point here (well, in several places, but here is where I’m stuck):

    “By the way, in hindsight, we should have dumped Barack for the same reason. He knows a lot more than Sarah, but not enough.”

    I agree that knowledge alone isn’t enough to make a good president. This issue has had me stumped before. A good judge or a good legislator isn’t necessarily a good president, even though they both have a certain relevant experience, perhaps a legislator moreso (being a constitutional scholar, the sitting POTUS sort of dips into a bit of both of these aspects). My first impulse is to think that executive experience would be a good prerequisite, but that leaves me flat. Governing a state would seem to pale by comparison. Other than a previous term as president (and even that’s no guarantee), what would make for a qualified candidate?

  9. JS and Frank

    Well, that’s the rub isn’t it? The best stepping stone job is probably to be PM of Canada or Australia, but that doesn’t quite work, does it? And no doubt Barack was 10X more qualified than Sarah, and for that matter only marginally less qualified than Hillary. And of course smarts matter. It’s certainly hard to argue Perry’s exec experience would have been better than Obama’s talent.

    And yes, I do think people need to realize their limitations, but I think this is a special case. Suppose, just for argument’s sake, that JS got a call from the NYT saying we need a lead op ed writer–are you interested? Obviously you can write and you can think, and the knowledge that the NYT thinks you’re good enough might persuade you to do it. But when you got into it you might find that you were in way over your head. That’s what happened to Bill Kristol (?) It is very hard to know what a job entails from the outside, especially if you are from Wasilla, Alaska. Perhaps Palin has some culpability, but the handlers clearly should have stepped in and stopped that train before it got to Dead Man’s Curve.

    • I take your point but am not sure you have the right example. I’d have no problem whatsoever with JS at the NYT. Given some of the idiocy that has leaked out of that place in recent years I’d go so far as to say that he might be good for them.

      Of course, that speaks to qualifications for actually doing the writing. Are there organizational arcana that might drive him over the edge? Possibly. But when it comes to being President, organizational arcana are part of the job explicitly, whereas in something like being an op-ed guy the politics are theoretically peripheral to the actual job.

      So maybe not exactly parallel cases.

  10. Not sure about that. You’ve read Mark Twain’s experience with being a regular columnist? (Roughing It) But I should have used myself as an example, but that’s so far fetched I thought it might confuse the issue. 🙂

  11. Made me watch:) I feel like I’m joining a conversation in the middle but thought I should watch the movie before popping off.

    It is certainly true that SP had no more business being a candidate for VP then George Plimpton had playing QB for the Lions and who succeeded in “convincing many in the crowd that he was a professional sports clown inserted for amusement purposes, not someone who was genuinely giving his best effort.” much as SP did in the campaign. And it seemed clear to me that several of the handlers knew this was a horrible mistake before it occurred to SP. Although, come to think of it, she was governor of the biggest state in the union, wasn’t she:)

    I saw where the sympathy came from but after the return to Wasilla there was a “Black Swan” type transformation into the publicity machine we have all come to know and love. I still think Lilmbaugh bullied McCain into picking SP and she perfectly fits his “base”, not too bright and “clinging to her religion and guns”. I remember him extolling, “the Republicans finally have a babe of our own.” or something close. Regardless, they created a … publicity machine that seems to be making her a small fortune and I wish her well — but I still twitch a bit when someone mentions her actually running for office. I don’t really think it possible but haven’t quite habituated to the dialogue.

    I agree that Obama is doing all right considering the situation into which he came. I think he misunderestimated the vitriol he was to encounter but he does seem to be a really smart guy on a steep learning curve which he has scaled and seems stronger for it. Unlike SP who reverted back to personality and pop-star performances, Obama appears to have learned the job. Will be interesting to see what the second term, should he get the chance, produces.

  12. Most of you are just so much liberal dribble. She is an intellegent female that was shown to be a bumbeling idiot.

  13. Barack Obama was never, I repeat never, vetted by the “Lamestream” media. Gross blunders, such as stating that there are “57 US States” shows his complete ignorance of our country and its history. This error was very quietly overlooked as were many other major foul ups. Why was he allowed to get away with it??

  14. Nobody has mentioned that she was the head of Alaska. She is a part of our government whilst only having almost no valuable qualities. Is Alaska full of idiots?

  15. March 19, 2012

    Showing sympathy for SP is certainly misplaced. This movie only confirmed what many politically informed people already knew about her intelligence and exposed more of her manic-like behaviors. She demanded that she do what she wanted to do “because she had everything already figured out and knew what she was doing.” It was sad to see her foolish thinking about herself and that she escalated her importance higher than she should have, and it was obvious and disgusting to Steve and Nicole, who were forced to work with her and try to help her. She refused their help and had she worked and tried to improve her knowlege level, she might have made a difference. SP’s own ignorance, behavior and grandiosity caused her downfall and McCain’s. I dislike seeing her on the news because her notations are useless. She should stay in Alaska and be a mom.
    She has caused enough trouble for the women in politics who really do need recognition for their accomplishments.

  16. Sarah Palin was the governor of Alaska, is it too much to expect her to understand what she was agreeing to? In one breath you’re blaming Schmidt for putting Pain on the ticket but what responsibility does Sarah have? It’s just like anyone who lies at a job interview about the skills that they possess and then isn’t able to perform their job well. Sarah put herself in that position just as much as anyone else. She bears some responsibility for that and that is why it’s difficult for me to be too sympathetic. There’s enough blame to go around. Was Sarah used? Sure but if she was smarter and savvier, she would have used anyone to get higher as well.

  17. It is painful still for me to watch Sarah on television. She causes me to question the dedication of our educational system, the intelligence of our political system and lastly the strange need our country has both republican and democrate for a rock star kind of politician. George Bush scared the crap out of me for 8 years with his general stupidity. During the 2008 election I was considering moving to Canada. Citizens need to do their own vetting of canidates so that we are able to look past all of the fake promises and trust their record. That is what counts!

  18. wow, the movie was to do one thing kill Palin. but you could see in the movie one thing, she was some thing they were going to use to win. and it didn’t work out that way. they push her around and didn’t help her. why? because no matter who you vote for they are all in it together. there a gang in the government that plays with the money and power of the people. they keep the people so backward you have to teach your self and your kids to learn the truth. Ones the church did this, they keep people from reading for they would understand little of what God really wanted. they were told to do things from them high up in the church, same here. when you see them go out and ask question about things in our country, and they give off the wall answers. we all laugh but its not funny they did this to us all and our kids. like we just learn about the ones in our government doing in side trading you just think if they knew things we didn’t they have no right to do this. But they did it for years and they got rich and we got nothing. our homes are all underwater we are all paying high payment for loans that aren’t worth it . our kids go to jail not school and have to put up with bad teachers that may be trying to have sex with your kid. our parks street even our homes are not save from monster that kidnap our kids. our churches are even not teaching the Bible they would be called out as hateful. we are being brainwashed. turn in to your family hold them close move out of the cities get a gun learn to take care of your self and get really its not going to get better any time soon. Has you kid try to get a job or our you and you wonder why you can’t look at the jobs over seas. The TV show where they show white people like trash. Why would they do this? What would be the point of this. Why is Obama telling ever one USA is sorry and we are not great? Why are we getting fat? And why is it there are countries that won’t buy our meat for they are full of stuff that can make us sick.

  19. Sara Palin might be dumb but she ain’t stupid. I think she knew exactly what she was getting into. As a VP candidate, win or lose, she would be thrown into the world’s limelight and could use her instant fame for personal gain. As manipulative, dishonest and money hungry as she is, she probably couldn’t believe her good fortune at being asked to be a candidate. Of course, she knew she wasn’t qualified to do the job but probably figured if McCain was stupid enough to ask, she’d outsmart him and say yes.

  20. OK, people, let’s admit it: she’s uneducated and ignorant, though clever. The common traits of all dictators – from Stalin and Mao to Nikolae Chaushesku and Paul Pot. This is the change she could bring to the game, and the game is DEMOCRACY. She was presented in this movie as someone who attracts the most ignorant and conservative part of the society, giving them the false feeling that facts do not count, and education is loss of time. I trust this part of the movie’s message.