After months of promotion HBO's film on Sarah Palin and the 2008 campaign, Game Change, will air (finally) this weekend. Conservatives (including Palin, who has not seen the movie) claim that the film is completely unfair and mainly fiction, plus a valentine to Obama from Democratic Hollywood. But the filmmakers say it's (sadly) all fact, except that Julianne Moore plays Palin even better than Palin played Palin.
The only thing surprising to me is that anyone at this late date would be surprised by any embarrassing facts about Palin. The truth has been known almost within hours of McCain lifting her out of obscurity back at the end of August 2008. There even persists in some quarters (including elements of mainstream media) the fantasy that Palin actually boosted McCain and drew support from women voters, when the facts (and the polls) always ran in the opposite direction.
Rather than in retrospect, I documented all this in real-time in my daily pieces for Editor & Publisher, which were collected in my 2009 book and e-book Why Obama Won. This week I will be excerpting parts of that book here, leading up to the HBO film airing, to show how much was known about Palin immediately -- not weeks, months or years later -- and how many in the media distorted this for far too long. Yes, we will be getting to David Brooks.
Pundits Blow Debate Analysis (Again)
The funniest, and most revealing, moment in Howard Kurtz's lengthy debate wrapup at The Washington Post today comes about halfway through it. After hailing Palin's performance and quoting numerous mainstream pundits attesting to same, all to suggest that she succeeded in stopping the bleeding, Kurtz dryly posts the following without comment: "CNN's insta-poll: Biden, 51 to 36. CBS survey of uncommitted: Biden, 46 to 21."
Of course, he could have cited many other similar polls, and dove into the numbers that showed little if any movement for Palin in the key measure of faith that she is actually ready to be president. How about this one, from CBS: "On the question of the candidates' qualifications to assume the presidency, 87 percent of those polled said Biden is qualified and 42 percent said Palin is qualified."
I wrote last week on the same phenomenon after the McCain-Obama debate, which the vast majority of mainstream pundits declared "even" -- but polls showed an easy win for Obama. And I posted several times earlier about McCain's poll numbers dropping only partly because of the economy, but largely due to the Palin Effect wearing thin.
It's not just conservatives like Bill Kristol and David Brooks who have lowered the bar so radically that even a grasshopper could not limbo under it: See mainstream comments today by Adam Nagourney in The New York Times and Dan Balz in the Washington Post.
Yet the mainstream outlets wonder why so many have lost respect for their judgment. The voters, as revealed by the polls, are apparently not buying "aw shucks, wink, you betcha" as enough of a qualification for the presidency. Yet for many in the punditocracy that's just enough. Or as one put it, the story of the night was "The Wink."
David Brooks asks today, in his embarrassing column that hails Palin, "Where was this woman during her interview with Katie Couric?" Apparently average Americans, but not average pundits, know the difference between scripted, and genuine, answers. And, David: They expect more from a president than those feel-good qualities, after eight years of the man you trumpeted for the White House in 2000 over someone maybe a little more "elite," and a little smarter. So many voters in 2000 said they wanted to have a beer with Bush -- and he had given up drinking. There's got to be a metaphor in there somewhere.
Lowry: Under the Spell of Palin's 'Starbursts'
From editor Rich Lowry's take on the Palin/Biden debate at his National Review site:
"A very wise TV executive once told me that the key to TV is projecting through the screen. It's one of the keys to the success of, say, a Bill O'Reilly, who comes through the screen and grabs you by the throat. Palin too projects through the screen like crazy. I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, 'Hey, I think she just winked at me.' And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can't be learned."
Lowry was soon mocked across the liberal blogosphere, and elsewhere, for falling "hard" for Palin.
The Dishonesty of David Brooks
Love her or hate her, you have to admit, at least Sarah Palin tells us what she really feels. In contrast, David Brooks' dishonesty is frightening.
Last Friday for The New York Times, following the vice-presidential debate, Brooks wrote of Palin, "She established debating parity with Joe Biden... By the end of the debate, most Republicans were not crouching behind the couch, but standing on it. The race has not been transformed, but few could have expected as vibrant and tactically clever a performance as the one Sarah Palin turned in Thursday night."
Forget, for the moment, this epic lapse of judgment -- every poll showed that viewers actually gave Biden an easy win. Flash forward three days later. Interviewed at a New York City event unveiling the new design for The Atlantic, Brooks suddenly admitted, speaking of Palin, that she was "not even close" to being ready to be vice president.
He also declared her a "fatal cancer" on the same party whose members, he'd just revealed, were standing on that couch after the debate. Shouldn't he have warned them?
It may or may not surprise you to learn that Brooks has not written a word declaring Palin unfit or why the selection of someone "not even close" to be being qualified for vice president by a 72-year-old cancer survivor might disqualify John McCain from Brooks' consideration for his support.
Perhaps Brooks didn't think anyone was taking notes on Monday -- let alone shooting video of his damaging assessment. But his blast at Palin had been buzzed about since Monday.
Now, it's true that Brooks in his Friday post-debate column did paint Palin as a bit of a rube who owed her purported success in the debate not to intellect (he has praised Obama on this count) but for appealing to all the "folks" out there -- and running not only against Washington but the entire East Coast. But nowhere in that column, or anywhere in print, has he shared with readers what appear to be his true feelings: that she is simply not qualified for the veep office, let alone the one above it.
He hinted at this in a Sept. 16 column, which lamented her lack of "experience," but it closed with a knock on the "smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place."
Even worse, what does it betray about his honesty and credibility -- and those of other conservative pundits who have mocked Palin but refused to rule out McCain for president because of his monumental lack of wisdom and integrity in picking her (the most important political decision he has ever made)? Brooks in his Monday talk underlined this when he commented, "The more I follow politicians, the more I think experience matters, the ability to have a template of things in your mind that you can refer to on the spot, because believe me, once in office there's no time to think or make decisions."
On Sept. 25, Brooks had revealed in his column that he was disappointed in the McCain campaign so far -- but did not mention the Palin pick once. His complaint: McCain "has no central argument." Still he hailed the candidate as a "good judge of character," adding, "He is, above all -- and this is completely impossible to convey in the midst of a campaign -- a serious man prone to serious things."
Andrew Sullivan at his Atlantic blog had it right when he commented that Brooks "does not apparently draw the obvious conclusion from this. The only non-negotiable criterion for the vice-presidency is an ability at a moment's notice to become the president, if the worst happens. Palin fails by that criterion."
Who needs Mark Shields? Maybe Brooks should debate himself on PBS this week. Yet many of Brooks' colleagues on the right have had no trouble frankly labeling Palin unqualified. The list includes everyone from David Frum to Christopher Buckley. Some have cited this in stating they can no longer support McCain.
Just today, Matthew Dowd, the key Bush strategist in 2004, jumped on the anti-Palin bandwagon, stating flatly that she is not at all qualified for higher office, and suggested that McCain, no doubt, will regret the Palin pick after the results in November arrive. Myself, I am tempted to label the Brooks-Palin team "Brooks and Dumb." Or is that Brooks and Kristol?
(Update: Brooks never did come clean in print before the election.)
Hockey Mom Booed at -- Hockey Game
You never know where you are going to find a political scoop, but Lynn Zinser at her New York Times hockey blog "Slapshot" posted first that Sarah Palin, in her much-ballyhooed appearance dropping the puck at the Philadelphia Flyers' opener, was greeted by "resounding (almost deafening) boos from the Flyers crowd."
Fox Sports observed more kindly on its site, "The crowd reacted with a mixture of cheers and boos at her appearance." AP also detected a "mixture" of cheers and boos, but videos quickly posted on YouTube suggested a more negative response.
Palin brought two of her daughters along. Apparently they are skipping school all month. (Perhaps Palin should call herself a "hooky Mom" instead.) She quipped beforehand that dressing her youngest in a Flyers' jersey might prevent the boos and catcalls. No chance, and it also raised the ire of some commentators that she had, once again, "used" her children.
Of course, getting booed in Philadelphia sports arenas is nothing new. As the story goes, the fans there even booed Santa Claus on one occasion. But Zinser's post had a lot more in mind:
"I would object to this sideshow whichever political party it involved. Having vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin drop the ceremonial first puck at the Flyers' opener Saturday night was problematic not because it was Palin -- Flyers owner Ed Snider's decision under the flimsy excuse of 'honoring' hockey moms -- but because it is injecting politics in a place it should not be."
"The biggest problem: when Palin came onto the Wachovia Center ice Saturday night -- greeted by resounding (almost deafening) boos from the Flyers crowd -- the two hockey players who had no choice but to appear with her in that photo-op were turned into props in a political campaign. If Rangers center Scott Gomez or Flyers center Mike Richards wanted to make some sort of political statement, that would be fine, but in this case, they were thrust into a situation not of their choosing. Snider put them there with his ill-advised mixing of politics and sports."
"The level of discomfort has been palpable for the Rangers' two Alaska natives, Gomez and Brandon Dubinsky, as they have been asked questions about Palin and the election in recent weeks. Dubinsky, a 22-year-old who has shied away from nothing since he broke in with the Rangers last year, looks petrified when the topic gets brought up. I think both would rather play goalie in a shootout than weigh in on the presidential election."
Greg Mitchell’s book Why Obama Won is available in both print and as an e-book. Among his other dozen books are The Campaign of the Century, on Upton Sinclair’s wildly influential race for governor of California in 1934 (winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize), and Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady.
Follow Greg Mitchell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GregMitch