Sunday, March 11, 2012

Game Change

HBO's series are so superb, it's sometimes easy to forget that Home Box Office was first a movie channel, and has brought us some great original movies over the years.  Game Change, which premiered tonight, is surely one of the very best.

Based on the John Heilemann and Mark Halperin book of the same name, starring Woody Harrelson (Steve Schmidt), Julianne Moore (Sarah Palin), and Ed Harris (John McCain) in tour-de-force leading roles, Game Change the movie gives us a breathtaking, heartbreaking, frightening, but ultimately more or less inspiring view of the election of 2008 which all us remember, and most of us knew much of what the movie tells us.  We knew, for example, that Palin gave a great convention speech, bungled the Couric interview, went rouge in the campaign by not completely following McCain's positions, pretty much held her own in the debate with Biden, wanted to give a concession speech after the loss but was refused that precedent-setting privilege by some combination of Schmidt (campaign manager) and McCain.

We also knew that YouTube magnified Palin's interview blunders by keeping them in permanent play - I discussed this back in 2009 in New New Media, and Schmidt in the movie shows an astute understanding of this media revolution.

What we didn't know were some even more extraordinary pockets of Palin ignorance, including thinking the Queen of England is head of the British state, and Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11.   That someone with such astonishing lack of knowledge was almost a heartbeat from the Presidency was enough to give Schmidt and Nicole Wallace (responsible for tutoring Palin in history) more than pause, and I hope most people a kick in the stomach right through the television screen tonight.   One can only assume that the single-minded focus on winning the election was enough to keep Schmidt from even allowing himself to consider the option of trying somehow to get Palin off the ticket.

Not that any attempt to convince her to resign would have worked.  And in that toughness, the great enigma of Sarah Palin comes across indelibly in the movie.  She's devastated by the media's response to her interview fumbles - the depth of her depression and fury being something else that we didn't quite know - yet she manages to pick herself up, and give a good debate performance against Biden, speaking from her heart.

Nicole Wallace, unfairly blamed by Palin for the interview fiascos, reveals to Schmidt in the end that she couldn't bring herself to vote for McCain-Palin, another revelation in the movie.  It didn't matter, because of course Obama won by far more than one vote.  In that sense - Obama winning and Wallace not voting - the system worked.

But are we less vulnerable to someone like Palin getting the nomination for Vice President today?   Until the crazy way our Vice Presidential candidates are selected is changed, our democracy will ever be on the precipice.

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