I was struck at Thursday night's premiere of Game Change at Washington's Newseum -- usually home to policy conferences and studies of the history of news -- that Julianne Moore, in her Tom Ford velvet green dress cut down to her navel, has come to epitomize glamorous women in politics.
Whatever you may think about Palin and her role as John McCain's vice-presidential nominee in 2008, no one will dispute her rock-star charisma, à la Barack Obama in that campaign. She's not alone. Many other women on both sides of the aisle have that quality, though maybe not quite to the extent of Palin. Look at Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic chairman; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, even former congresswoman Gabby Giffords -- all attracted massive amounts of TV time; all are beautiful women.
Moore, who told me she spent months studying Palin -- along with 2-1/2 hours a day in makeup getting a tan and putting in contacts to make her eyes look bigger -- is troubled by the trend in which politics has gone Hollywood. On the red carpet, she asked "why it is we're so attracted to people who are incredibly good-looking and charismatic in our national leaders."
The politics of celebrity -- the sexy candidate phenomenon -- leapt from the big screen to the campaign trail. Many seem to presume that a charismatic candidate is automatically capable of being a great leader. That's a formula for success in Hollywood, but is it right for American politics?
Moore is a beautiful woman, so good in this role that you forget she's playing Palin. She captured the essence of a candidate under enormous pressure to perform in an arena far bigger than Alaska. Men like political adviser Steve Schmidt, who advocated for her place on the ticket, knew that her looks would boost their chances for garnering the female vote, knew they needed beauty and charm to make a dent in Senator Obama's soaring campaign. This was their political predicament, despite the fact that McCain had decades of experience and became a prisoner of war while fighting for our country.
To be sure, Palin is magnetic and inspires millions of people. I remember listening to her convention speech and thinking, as the title of the movie says, that her entrance onto the national stage was a game changer and exactly what the Republican Party needed. Yet even people who worked with her say that she was stunningly ill-informed for someone who presumed to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Here's an accomplished female governor of Alaska who went through a humiliating and frustrating experience that is retold in painful detail in HBO's Game Change. But the attention has made her a multi-millionaire, a Fox News contributor, best-selling author, uber-fundraiser and reality show star. In the last frame of the movie, watch Palin's -- Moore's -- expression as the crowd chants "Sarah, Sarah!" Her eyes sweep to the side and she turns up her lips in a half-smile as if to say, just watch me now. We'd be hard pressed not to say that she's had the last laugh.