A few years ago, I was doing consumer counseling work at an Atlanta radio station. This particular station is known for its very conservative talk programming — syndication home of Sean Hannity, for example, but not, thankfully, the gasbag known as “Rush.” Since my own politics are liberal/progressive, I felt very odd there, as everyone’s down-time chat tended toward the political, and far to the right.
The morning after Sarah Palin gave her speech at the Republican Convention, one of the other staffers rushed into the office glowing like she’d just met (and yes, I’m talking about in the Biblical sense) George Clooney. She simply couldn’t contain herself, and went on and on about this wonderful woman; between calls she’d try to engage me — we were friendly — in her newfound joy. I told her I hadn’t seen the speech. But I had.
I think “Game Change,” the HBO movie that debuted Saturday night, is historic. Much more than a simple diatribe aimed at Palin, it asks the tough question: “How did this happen?”
We could start with a cynical, information-overloaded, badly educated populace; a never-ending news cycle which has produced a dwindling attention span on the part of that populace; extremist talk hosts feeding the worst side of humanity while they scrape up their millions; the win-at-any-cost times we’re living in now.
All the characters, including Palin, are written with empathy. She is portrayed magnificently by Julianne Moore as a charismatic figure nobody bothered to properly vet, a small-time politician whose ignorance became fodder for gleeful parodies like Tina Fey’s, and horrified commentary from serious news pundits. We see the effects of all this on her; she simply shuts down. Finally, her handlers realize that Palin’s “base” doesn’t give a damn if she doesn’t know what the Fed is or where Germany is, and they retool her to play to her audience.
It works. She does so, brilliantly. Given vague and jingoistic answers to parrot back, she delivers. But it’s too late. “One heartbeat away from the Presidency” is what I remember; enough to cancel the few percentage points that would have won the election for John McCain.
McCain is played by Ed Harris as a character with real nobility. He’s a dying breed. In his last scene with Palin, as he leaves to give the concession speech, he whispers to her that, as a new leader, she should beware of the talk-show extremists; that they’ll destroy the Party.
I wonder how my father, a lifelong Republican, would have viewed the current crop of Republican candidates. As a liberal, I happily note every gaffe. As an American, I view it with despair.
Friends and acquaintances of mine had a ball making fun of Sarah Palin. But I couldn’t help think about the woman in my old office, and how she reacted to Palin’s convention speech. “Don’t kid yourselves,” I’d say, spoiling all their fun. “Don’t write her off. They love her.”
I’d like to think that this film will finish Sarah Palin as a candidate for anything. The programmers timed it very well, as the stunned Republican powers-that-be are rumored to be discussing a possible alternative to their current bunch. Her name has come up.
But I think that we are so divided now that the gulf between liberal and conservative might be impossible to cross. I believe this film represents the truth, but it’s already being called “nothing but lies” by Palin and her people. And in the film’s last crowd scene, John McCain’s concession speech is barely over before the audience begins chanting “Sar-ah!” The defeated McCain regards them with horror. More than any other moment in the film, this one speaks to what I fear is my country’s diminishing future.
Photo from The Blaze newsletter, via Google Images.