Game Change: McCain’s Unforgivable Desperate Hail Mary Pass
Don’t believe the accounts of HBO's movie Game Change that say the film humanizes Sarah Palin. The story line is exactly the opposite. Sarah Palin, as we all knew, was a desperate Hail Mary Pass by John McCain, completely unvetted and incompetent for the job of Vice President. The film confirms this. It also portrays her as ignorant beyond our wildest imagination and verging on mental illness, veering between bouts of catatonia, manic behavior and paranoia, coupled with having mini-meltdowns.
By all means watch it. Even though it confirms much of what we already knew, it still produces chills. Had McCain, then 72 years old, won the election, this woman would have been next in line to be President. My review is below [More...]
First, the funniest and best line of the film: An aide says that upon learning McCain chose Palin, Dick Cheney said it was a reckless choice. He pauses and adds:
“When you lose the moral high ground of Dick Cheney, it’s time to rethink your entire life.”
McCain is portrayed as a foul-mouthed, principled but detached candidate who avoids contact with Palin and leaves all major decisions and hard tasks to his aides. He’s also a gambler, willing to take huge risks.
When discussing the pros and cons of selecting Palin, one of his aides warned him it was likely to be viewed as a “self- serving political maneuver” that could cost him his reputation. Another said choosing Palin undercuts McCain’s best argument against Obama -- that he’s inexperienced. McCain’s response was, “High risk, high reward.”
At the point McCain’s staff can no longer control Palin, and his chief aide Steve Schmidt, played mostly well by Woody Harrelson, asks McCain to step in, so they can “finish the campaign with as much dignity as possible.” McCain refuses, saying Palin might turn on him. And at the end, when Steve tells McCain, “I’m so sorry that I suggested her, ” McCain responds with, “Don’t be, F*ck ‘em, what were we supposed to do?”
There’s an attempt to show McCain’s principled side by standing up to a voter who calls Obama an Arab, and giving his aides some talk about how he’s not going to stoop to American populism. Also in his final remarks to Palin, described below. None of it excuses his choice of Palin.
I think Ed Harris was a poor choice for McCain. He should have gained 20 pounds. His wooden walk was too pronounced, his head tilted too much to the side, and his affectations were almost feminine at times, while McCain’s are not.
The Failure to Vet Palin:
The first jaw-dropping disclosure is that Palin was suggested as a result of an aide’s google search after McCain’s aides convinced him polling showed him so far behind in the women’s vote that a female running mate would be the answer.
The aide, Rick Davis, played by Ally McBeal alumni Peter MacNichol, is tasked with finding a female candidate. He does a google search, typing in the names of female Republican politicians. When they look too dowdy, he recalls something about the Governor of Alaska, and stumbles across a You Tube video of Sarah Palin. He’s mesmerized. The search was over.
Later, the aides admit they never asked Palin about policy. They just asked whether she’d tow the line and support McCain’s positions. The only other topic they inquired about was skeletons in her closet. They never thought to ask questions about her knowledge of issues. They never talked to a reference or even one person in Alaska about her. It was the most stunningly incompetent vetting in the history of presidential politics.
They also didn’t realize she’d misled them. It wasn’t until after she was chosen they found out she had supported the Bridge to Nowhere as a candidate (she told McCain she had opposed it) or that there were allegations of ethical misconduct over the firing of her brother-in-law Trooper. Even when they confronted her with them, she denied it.
Palin was very paranoid during the campaign, always thinking McCain’s aides were out to destroy her. When an aide had to come up with a response about Bristol’s pregnancy, she included a line about Sarah and Todd still being proud of Bristol. Palin wanted that line deleted, because it sent the wrong message, as if she approved of teen pregnancy. The aide didn’t remove the line. The campaign apologized to Sarah, saying it was a mistake. Sarah said it was intentional and demanded the aide be fired. (She was.)
Palin became obsessed with what people in Alaska would think of her. She demanded the campaign spend $60,000 on a poll to find out her approval rating in Alaska. When she was told Alaska only had three electoral votes and money was tight, she didn’t care. When the results didn’t come in fast enough, she accused them of lying to her about having the poll done. When the results came in, she accused them of making them up.
At one point, the campaign staff was so concerned Palin was mentally unstable, Steve calls McCain in the middle of the night. McCain responds that they should bring her and her family to Sedona. McCain says she needs to be surrounded by her family’s love. And at Sedona, he can have his next door neighbor, a psychiatrist, come to a barbecue and observe her. (The psychiatrist didn’t observe anything of concern.)
The campaign was dumbfounded when they realized Palin knew nothing about foreign and domestic issues. They brought in gangs of tutors to teach her. She thought the head of the British Government was the Queen. She didn’t know the difference between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. She thought we invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11. She didn’t know what the “Fed” was or the first thing about economics – or global warming – or the bailout.
Despite the tutors, she never was able to learn. During the sessions, she’d frenetically take notes on big index cards, and remember nothing afterwards. She alternated this manic behavior with bouts of going catatonic – just stone-faced, sitting there, refusing to register emotion or respond to them. She just stared. When not catatonic, she’d ignore them and manically type on her Blackberry – sometimes two Blackberrys. They finally gave up. She was unteachable.
She went catatonic during attempts to prep her for the Katie Couric interview. When she saw the media attacks on her over the interview, she blamed the aides. (She watched all her TV coverage, from the news to Saturday Night Live skits.)
For the debate with Biden, they brought in extra reinforcements. They soon realized it was pointless to try and teach her anything. Then one aide got an idea. She was a good actress. They picked 25 questions in four topic areas and wrote up a script and asked her to memorize it. Not to think about it, just deliver the scripted responses. That she could do. She acted the lines at the debate with Joe Biden (who she called O’Biden) and in their view, was a hit. And that’s what she did the rest of the campaign, along with come up with cheesy slogans like “Drill baby drill” and “USA, USA, USA.”
Palin’s Embellished Sense of Her Importance
Shortly after being chosen, an aide remarked to Palin about how unfazed she seemed by all the attention. She responded, “It’s G-ds plan.”
When she gained her footing by successfully memorizing (as opposed to understanding) the scripts with talking points, she started inserting her cheesy one liners at rallies, which equally ignorant Republicans started cheering. Sarah the over-confident was born.
Soon she wanted to go after Reverand Wright and Bill Ayers. McCain’s aides told her McCain had decided against it. After telling his chief aide how much money she’s raising for the campaign, she adds,
“If I’m single-handedly carrying this campaign, I’m going to do what I want.”
Best writing in the film:
Palin demands she be allowed to give a concession speech on Election night. Chief Aide Steve tells her it’s not going to happen. She goes behind his back, giving a copy of her speech to a junior aide, telling him to load it on the teleprompter. Steve finds out and stops him. Palin confronts Steve and he explains, tonight is not about you, it’s about the country. She insists she just wants to praise McCain. He tells her never in history has a VP candidate given a concession speech on election night. She says “Yeah, well there’s a lot of things that haven’t been done before.”
That really gets him, and for the first time, he gets angry and emotional. He responds with,
Governor, this country has just elected the first African American President in the history of its existence. And it is the concession speech that will legitimize his succession as Commander in Chief. It is a serious and solemn occasion and John McCain, and only John McCain, will be giving this sacred speech. This is how it has been done in every presidential election since the dawn of the Republic and you, Sarah Palin, will not change the importance of this proud American tradition.
I almost cheered.
Foiled at Last
Palin then goes behind his back and goes directly to McCain, trying to sweettalk him into letting her give a speech after his. (It may be the only time we see interaction between them, McCain ignored her most of the time.) McCain isn’t convinced and asks his aides, who say absolutely not. She’s foiled at last.
On his way out the door to give the speech, he stops, turns around and goes back over to Palin, telling her:
Sarah, you’re one of the leaders of the party now. Don’t get coopted by Limbaugh and the other extremists. They’ll destroy the party if you let them. Remember, you’re a hockey mom, you just want to make a difference. And you did. A big huge difference. And I’ll always be grateful. Thank You.
Of course, they hug.
Saddest, Most Credible Moment
The saddest but most believable moment of the film was as results come in on Election Night and it's clear McCain will lose. Nicolle Wallace, his chief communications director. who has been the most horrified by Palin’s ignorance and inability to learn, tells Chief Aide Steve, through tears,
“There’s something I have to tell you. I didn’t vote, I couldn’t do it.”
Wallace, played really well by Sarah Paulson, is the most (if not only) likable character in the film.
Most Prescient Moment:
During the concession speech, when McCain and Palin are on the stage, and Palin is smiling and waving at the crowds, Steve leans over to the aide who found Palin by googling her, and asks: Still think she’s fit for office? The aide responds, “Who cares? In 48 hours no one will even remember who she is.”
As Palin continues to wave with her manic face on, and people cheer her, the camera flashes to Nicole, the communications director, who looks absolutely terrified at the response to Palin, and then to Steve, who has a knowing look that says, we haven’t seen the last of her.
Would McCain Pick Palin Again?
In the film's final scene, Chief Aide Steve is interviewed by Anderson Cooper. He does his best not to trash Palin, but he also isn’t going to lie. He weighs each response carefully. He says there were numerous instances of Palin being untruthful and inaccurate, something she continues to do to this day.
The last line of the film: Anderson asks Steve whether, if he had it to do over again, he would have Palin on the ticket. Steve hedges:
“My job is to give political advice. We needed to do something bold to try and win the race. You don’t get to go back in time Anderson and have do-overs in life.”
The closing song is G-d Bless America, and given what we just viewed for 2 hours, it just brings chills. I always said we dodged a bullet with McCain’s desperate Hail Mary pass in choosing Palin.
Nothing better shows the poor judgment of John McCain than his Hail Mary pass of choosing Sarah Palin, a politician with no relevant national experience, serious knowledge gaps on important issues and questionable ethical judgment to be his running mate. By putting his personal quest to be President over the well-being of our nation, he has demonstrated he lacks the character to be President. He sold us out for the sake of his own ambition.
Sarah Palin will cost John McCain the presidency. She is his insurmountable problem. He has no one to blame but himself and his advisers. He chose Palin in a desperate Hail Mary pass to save his fledgling campaign and it didn't work. Not with women who formerly supported Hillary, not with Independents and not even with leaders of his own party like Colin Powell.
Sarah Palin is the train wreck the McCain campaign didn't see coming. The rest of the country can't take its eyes away, which is why stories about her are number one on so many news sites and why SNL's ratings are sky high.
Nothing shows John McCain's lack of judgment and ill-suitedness to lead our country more than his spectacular blunder in picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. It's the prime reason that on November 4, voters other than true Obama supporters -- those that might have voted for McCain -- will run in the other direction.
But in the past three years, I've tuned Palin out, and that's probably dangerous. She is still scratching at the windows of the Republican party. This film is a great reminder how close we came to a national disaster and how terrifying it would have been if John McCain's ploy worked and he had won the election.
As Anonymous always says, Never Forgive, Never Forget.
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