After months of promotion HBO's film on Sarah Palin and the 2008 campaign, Game Change, will air (finally) tonight. 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 have been 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. Here's today's installment.
Palin (In the Flesh) on 'SNL'
She had surprisingly little to do in the opening segment -- and she took a lot of heat, especially on her some-parts-of-USA-not-patriotic statement. And the whole set up reminded people that she has not, in fact, had a press conference during the entire campaign (unlike Joe the Plumber). Tina Fey even did another beauty pageant riff. I wonder if this was what Palin bargained for? I expected her to turn the tables and portray Fey as her 30 Rock character. Instead all she got to do was hear Alec Baldwin call her "hotter in person" and yell "live from New York."
Later in the show she endured a rap number on "Weekend Update," also making fun of her, featuring Amy Poehler and a Todd Palin lookalike. Palin just kind of sat there and danced in her seat as they gunned down a moose and some such. Fortunately for her, it was hard to hear many of the acerbic lyrics. Is getting points for being a good sport enough at this stage? That she is in on the joke that she is a...joke?
Palin Runs Dry in Polls
It may yet turn out differently, but at this stage in the campaign for the White House it appears that if John McCain loses in November the turning point, in my view, will not be the financial crisis hitting in late September but his choice of Sarah Palin as his veep in late August. Now two new national polls show that voters cite that choice as the main reason they have turned from McCain.
Indeed, his slippage in the polls began in September after his convention bounce, and before the financial crisis truly hit, as media vetting on Palin began and she ventured out for her first TV interview. But here is another measure: the brutal criticism of that pick in newspaper editorial endorsements of his opponent -- from GOP-leaning papers that endorsed George W. Bush.
Many of them cited his Palin pick as a key reason for switching sides this time around. As the Chicago Tribune, which backed a Democrat for president for the first time in its history, frankly declared, "McCain failed in his most important executive decision." Yet McCain said today, referring to Palin, "I think she is the most qualified of any that has run recently for vice president."
Here is a gallery of some of these comments, all from Bush-backing papers in 2004:
ASBURY PARK (N.J.) PRESS
"If McCain, who is 72 and has a history of cancer, should die in the presidency, he would be succeeded by Sarah Palin, whose selection as the vice presidential candidate calls McCain's judgment into serious question. She is not qualified to lead a nation facing its toughest challenges in decades."
SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
"Then, out of nowhere, and without proper vetting, the impetuous McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She quickly proved grievously underequipped to step into the presidency should McCain, at 72 and with a history of health problems, die in office. More than any single factor, McCain's bad judgment in choosing the inarticulate, insular and ethically challenged Palin disqualifies him for the presidency."
"Perhaps the worst mistake McCain made in his campaign for the White House was the choice of the inexperienced and inflammatory Palin as his vice-presidential running mate. Had he selected a moderate, experienced Republican lawmaker such as Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison with a strong appeal to independents, the Chronicle's choice for an endorsement would have been far more difficult."
STOCKTON (Ca.) RECORD
"If elected, at 72, [McCain] would be the oldest incoming president in U.S. history. He's in good health now, we're told, although he has withheld most of his medical records. That means Gov. Sarah Palin could very well become president. And that brings us to McCain's most troubling trait: his judgment. While praiseworthy for putting the first woman on a major-party presidential ticket since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, his selection of Palin as a running mate was appalling."
Palin Called a 'Diva' and 'Whack' -- And That's From the McCain Team
David Frum at his National Review diary takes on the Washington Times' Tony Blankley and Rush Limbaugh on their prescriptions for a conservative comeback in years ahead: "When Rush and Blankley tell us the blueprint is there, if only we would follow it, they are telling us something that is not true. They are offering flattering illusions when we need truth. They are leading us to disaster -- and beyond disaster, to irrelevance."
Meanwhile, Mike Allen at Politico says a McCain aide has anonymously one-upped yesterday's claim, from that campaign, that Palin is a "diva" and "going rogue" by saying she is "whack." Jon Stewart did a funny segment on this last night, which ended with Palin on the cover of Rogue magazine. No wonder each member of the team may want to blame the other: the Anchorage Daily News features a finding from a new Pew survey that Palin is now a huge "drag" on the ticket with 49 percent now viewing her unfavorably and only 44 favorably.
Appearing once again on The Daily Show, Bill Kristol, Jon Stewart's favorite whipping boy ("Bill Kristol, aren't you ever right?"), tonight defended the McCain-Palin ticket, at one point informing Jon that he was getting his news from suspect sources. "You're reading The New York Times too much," Kristol declared.
"Bill, you work for The New York Times," Stewart pointed out.
-- 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.