As part of my generally futile attempt to simplify my life, I chose
a Comcast package that combines my telephone, email and television.
The bundle gives me HBO — where I watched "Too
Big to Fail," about the 2008 financial crisis, six times last
I know better than to
believe everything I read, never mind what I see dramatized on a
screen, and yet ... sometimes visual impact screams "truth" and
flows through one's eyes into one's brain to settle there.
Example: the end of the
Candidate," in which Robert Redford, playing an idealistic
candidate for U.S. Senate, learns that he has won and asks his
election specialist, "What do we do now?"
That one scene defines
people whose skills lie in campaigning, who can simplify complicated
issues into winning arguments, and then must face the reality of
having to govern. That is politics becoming government, in a
nutshell, and once we understand this, it's easier to understand
what we see each day in the news.
As voters, we want
answers, and reward the candidates who seem to have them. But even
if the candidate knows what he is doing about the issues of the day,
after he takes office, the issues will change; some will be
completely unexpected and new. This is why we look for character in
our presidential candidates, for attributes that will allow the
president to rise to almost any occasion. Sometimes, in our
eagerness to justify hope, we invent those attributes, or allow the
media to feed them to us, which explains how we elected our current
Those of us who are
political junkies are more aware than many voters of what goes on in
political campaigns, so that instead of being puzzled by some of the
long-term results, we can appreciate the absurdity of much of what
This is why I am highly
recommending my latest favorite HBO political movie, for those of
you who get HBO or have friends who will invite you over. "Game
Change," the story of the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign, is
riveting, rich and rewarding. I suspect that it is also pretty
accurate, and a learning moment for us all.
Though I haven't read
the book on which it was based, I did read Sarah Palin's
Rogue," and her stories almost match the
events in the movie, though sometimes with a different direction of
blame. As easy as it is to imagine a politician/public figure as
self-serving, it is even easier to imagine professional campaign
consultants/staffers trying to shift blame away from their own role.
Taking these realities
into account, you can enjoy the drama. The cast is perfect:
Thankfully, Tina Fey was not chosen to play Palin. Instead, Julianne
Moore becomes Sarah Palin, and gives the viewer a person to
like, admire, be appalled by and, eventually, feel sorry for, as she
is overwhelmed by that other campaign reality, the 24-hour media
cycle that encourages media silliness and savagery.
The day after watching
Ed Harris as Sen. John McCain, I was surprised to see the real John
McCain on a weekend news show, stating that he had not watched the
movie. Too bad; he missed a great performance of himself! He was
very likable in the film, at least to those of us who don't have
unrealistic expectations of politicians.
Woody Harrelson playing
McCain strategist Steve Schmidt is another reason to watch "Game
Change." This is what the professional game players are. This is
what a campaign is, albeit not always as interesting as the Palin
Like the Republicans
who cheered her at their convention, I loved Sarah Palin through
most of the 2008 campaign, while, like the McCain staff, slowly
developing concerns about her readiness to potentially be president.
At one point, McCain says, "That poor girl. She wasn't ready for
this — we threw her in the deep end without a life preserver."
I laughed through my
first viewing of "Game Change," felt like crying through my second.
This movie didn't make Sarah Palin look bad. Can't say the same for
the rest of America.
It's clear from the
film what happened. Charismatic Barack Obama, barely vetted, was
thrilling us with the chance to be transformed. The McCain campaign
saw no way to beat him without offering a similar example of
diversity. Republican maverick McCain wanted independent maverick
Joe Lieberman, but polling showed the Republican base wouldn't
support a pro-choice former Democrat.
So like candidates
before him, he picked a woman. Charismatic, pro-life Palin, barely
vetted, was chosen to infuse that Republican base with new
grass-roots energy, which she did.
John McCain balked at
going negative, even with valid points. Yet some of his grass-roots
supporters attacked Obama with wilder, less valid points, rumors
that took hold in the absence of proper media examination of the
Democratic candidate. The Obama-enchanted voters recoiled from such
negativity. As one of McCain's advisers said at the end of the
movie, "We never had a chance."
If you can, see "Game
Change." Then wait to learn the next Republican choices, and see if
we've all learned anything at all.