Say this about the media and Sarah Palin — for all the scorn and mockery heaped upon the erstwhile candidate, she remains the star of the show.
Perhaps the best part of the new HBO movie about Palin, “Game Change,” comes when the handlers of 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain are watching yet another fawning tribute to then candidate Barack Obama, this time the ludicrous “Greek temple” setting in Denver when he accepted the nomination. The McCain team knows they are up against a celebrity and that their candidate is sunk unless they can come up with … a game changer.
Enter Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, played by Julianne Moore in the movie. The tale is pretty shopworn now, nearly four years after the halycon days of the ’08 campaign, but needless to say Palin was not competently vetted, which led to the uproar over her disastrous TV interview with Katie Couric and the SNL/Tina Fey skits that made her look like a mentally unstable moron. Which is pretty much how the McCain team came to see her, according to the movie.
Watching it this weekend, however, I came away thinking, I wonder who will have the last laugh? Palin has been targeted non-stop ever since she burst on the national scene, and to see her today, staying out of the horrible Republican primary campaign, telling breathless reporters — “hey, we got an interview with Sarah Palin!” — that she is just biding her time as her party self immolates, leaving President Obama facing what looks like a cruise to reelection, isn’t quite the picture the HBO movie paints. Palin and her partisans hate it, of course (see video above), calling it yet another liberal media smear job.
The movie ostensibly comes from the best selling book of the same name, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. But guess what? There’s nothing in the docudrama about Hillary Rodham Clinton or John Edwards, who figure prominently in the book. Obama’s part is left to a few clips, mostly about the mass adulation that surrounded his candidacy. McCain, played in the movie by Ed Harris, is a secondary character. Mostly, it’s about Palin as seen through the experiences and eyes of senior McCain aide Steve Schmidt, played with sepuchral angst by Woody Harrelson. Another aide, Nicolle Wallace, also figures prominently — always with a look of either horror or shock as she encounters a moody, petulant, egotistic and, of course, surpassingly ignorant Palin, who proves mostly uncoachable and in the end, uncontrollable.
The Sarah Palin painted by this production, and by Schmidt, who started blabbing to journalists about the perils of Palin soon after McCain lost, is not entirely unsympathetic. Her obvious connection with working people out on the campaign trail — especially with parents of special needs kids (she has a son with Down Syndrome) — show a candidate with rare gifts. As a mother and wife, she seems to come alive — but then, male politicians don’t carry these duties and have more time to become policy wonks and to work out their political personas without having to check in on the drama of their pregnant teen-age daughter, which is what Palin had to face.
Palin’s faith comes across, as well — but mostly as the kind of backwoods mindlessness that Obama scorned in his “guns and religion” quote of 2008, and is mostly the cause of a lot of eyerolling among the campaign insiders. And of course, her monumental cluelessness about foreign policy and the workings of the Washington establishment are hammered home in scene after scene. Curiously, while Palin’s 2008 obvious shortcomings scare the political pants off her Republican handlers, who realize that if McCain at 72 were to be elected and die in office, a moose hunting hockey mom would be president, McCain himself is portrayed as unruffled by his running mate, even appreciative of her skills at connecting with people and her star power.
And that’s pretty much the Palin story, isn’t it? Would she have become the target of so much scorn if she wasn’t an attractive woman with a reality-show family and a Pentecostal faith in God’s actively in her life? Or is it all about her almost willful inability to describe what the Federal Reserve does or why this country is in Afghanistan behind all the news stories, books and now this docudrama? Palin and her team put out their own, much less artful, account of her career late last year, called “The Undefeated,” which, to be charitable, is a whitewashed account of her political rise (and is based on her book, “Going Rogue: An American Life.”)
And, like I said, this story is still being written.
You the viewer can decide.