Now that I’ve finally seen the new HBO movie “Game Change” I have to resist the urge to critique the film… except this: All the other leading ladies of 2012 can kiss their Emmy goodbye because Julianne Moore already has a lock on this one. (Got that out of my system.)
I have to confess that I might have taken excessive pleasure in Tina Fey’s blistering caricatures. And, for a time, I even scanned Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish with hathos in my heart. But as Sarah Palin’s political intentions became clearer and the prospect of her in a national office began to fade, first in 2008 and again in 2011, my animus for the woman always receded with it.
It is not Sarah Palin the person that I found troubling. It was Sarah Palin the politician that engendered my fears. She is charismatic and clearly has a talent for the public spotlight. There were more than a couple of times when she appeared capable of taking her unprecedented ignorance (even while brandishing it with pride) all the way to the highest office in the country.
For now, though, she is tucked safely in Alaska with only the occasional money making foray to the lower Fourty-Eight. Even so, there still exists a stubborn resistance from Palin supporters to simply say, “Hey, maybe we made a mistake.”
Deal with it. I supported John Edwards in 2007. But when I see his tabloid face at the supermarket check-out, I don’t defend his record as a lawyer and insist that he still would have made a good president. Rather, I think, “Whew! Dodged a bullet.”
In his NRO article Some ‘Change’, Jim Geraghty embodies that conservative imperative to stand by the standard narrative. His article attacks both the veracity of the film as well as its relevance.
He quotes the screenwriter, Danny Strong, “We stand by the film as being completely accurate and truthful and representing what happened. It’s true. The movie’s true.” Geraghty is careful to allow that historical movies often take creative license yet goes on to torpedo the entire film on precisely those grounds.
The first scene he challenges is when advisers are tutoring Palin in fundamental knowledge of World War II. Geraghty points out that Randy Scheunemann, the adviser depicted said that this scene is “absolutely untrue.”
In another scene he observes:
Harrelson’s Steve Schmidt watches Palin’s answers to Katie Couric’s questions and gasps, “Oh my God! What have we done?” That scene and those words do not appear in Heilemann and Halperin’s book, either.
The article continues:
You can’t invent scenes and quotes and then insist the film is “completely accurate and truthful.”
He is right, of course, and Danny Strong should modify his statement. It should read, “We stand by the film as being
completely fundamentally accurate and truthful and representing what happened… The movie’s essentially true.” What Geraghty would have you believe without actually saying as much is that the entire film is fiction… not to be trusted.
But the truthfulness of the film, any film, does not lay entirely with verbatim accounts of back-room dealings or whether or not this scene or that scene happened in fact. Rather, the question is how fairly or unfairly does this film represent that particular version of history? Columbus’s story doesn’t change much if he said “Land-ho” or “Look! There’s China” when he first spotted Hispaniola.
So why do I accept the essential truthfulness of the “Game Change?” Be cause the people who were in the trenches during that campaign have said so. Former Bush communications director and senior McCain campaign adviser Nicolle Wallace, who was featured in the movie, had this to say:
“…true enough to make me squirm.”
This sentiment was echoed by McCain’s senior campaign adviser, Steve Schmidt who was also a central character in “Game Change.” He said this on MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
“I think it was very accurate… For all of us in the campaign, it really rang true. It gave you a little bit of PTSD at times. It did for me.
What is conspicuously missing from Geraghty’s commentary is an address to the most central question of the film. Was Sarah Palin qualified to assume the office if John McCain were unable to fulfill his duties as President?
But that question is about the only one that Geraghty contorts to avoid asking. Rather, he variously speculates on the filmmakers liberal motives. He suggest that others, more cynical than himself, might believe liberal Hollywood made it thinking that that Sarah Palin would head the GOP ticket this year. He even suggests that the the filmmakers took only this story line from the book because “they couldn’t bring themselves to portray any Democrat negatively.” And several times he emphasizes that the movie is simply irrelevant.
If you are a fan of Sarah Palin, you will loathe this movie. If you hate Sarah Palin, large swaths of this movie will be more thrilling than pornography.If you are somewhere in the middle, you will find yourself wondering why you’re watching big-name actors reenact extremely recent events, with limited new revelations, insight, or lessons from it all.
He is probably right that how you react to this film will be proportionate to the strength of your feelings about Sarah Palin. But, again, he also goes to great lengths to dismiss the film’s relevance.
Say what you like about Palin, she has shaped the political conversation in this country. It isn’t unreasonable to wonder how many of Santorum supporters secretly think that he’s the best they could do in the absence of Sarah Palin. How our candidates are selected and vetted is, I hope, never an irrelevant topic. In the same interview Steve Schmidt said it rather nicely:
But, look, I think it’s a story of when cynicism and idealism collide. When you have to do things necessary to win, to try to get in office to do the great things you want to do for the country and I think it showed a process of vetting that was debilitated by secrecy, that was compartmentalized, that failed, that led to a result that was reckless for the country and I think when you look back at that race, you see this person who is just so phenomenally talented at so many levels, an ability to connect but also someone who had a lot of flaws as someone running, you know, to be in the national command authority who clearly wasn’t prepared.”
So, yeah, it does seem pretty relevant.
There are many out there who can still envision Sarah Palin as a great president. Any negatives about her are easily attributed to the liberal media or Obama’s smear machine or aliens, but they will never see Palin as a flawed candidate. I just don’t have much to say to these folks.
Then there are the Jim Geraghtys. His critique of the movie never quite rose to the level of actually defending Palin’s selection for Vice-President because even he understands that she was an indefensible choice. So he is left with framing the story as old news and blemished with false facts. He squirms in his chair looking for excuses for people to not watch the movie rather than having the cajones to say something as simple as “Whew! Dodged a bullet.”