Political films are among my favorite genres because of their drama, excitement of the campaign and attempt to portray the human side of candidates and staffers.
Game Change is no exception.
The story of how Sarah Palin was chosen for the 2008 GOP vice-presidential spot was both intriguing and sad as it showed the lengths a desperate candidate and staff were willing to go in order to win the election.
For many decades now, the American people have been treated to VP picks from out of nowhere. Bush 41's Quayle comes to mind as does Nixon's Spiro Agnew and Carter's Mondale. Even after they are elected, vice presidents are typically nobodies, although that's changed considerably since Al Gore and his reinvention of government. Dick Cheney took the office to another level with behind-the-scenes manipulation, including his own nomination as vice president.
Sarah Palin was indeed different, too. As the film portrays, she was an effective governor in Alaska with an 80 percent approval rating, but a fish out of water when it came to national politics and foreign policy. We knew that as we watched her performance in real time four years ago.
What we didn't know was how she and her family suffered not only from the nation's public spotlight but from the fact that she had a soldier son in Iraq, a pregnant teenage daughter and a five-month-old child of special needs. Here the film shows her to be a strong woman unphased by personal difficulties but a sympathetic character in over her head, although admirably willing to serve her country.
Then, she got the juice. Husband Todd Palin, who really plays a minor role in the film, advises her to be herself and to use her star quality to connect with the crowds as she is capable of doing. Campaign staffers come to the same conclusion as they give up trying to prep her for the vice presidential debate with a crash course in American history, geography and political science and instead just give her a script to memorize. She does both successfully, but that's when she becomes uncontrollable, takes over the campaign and overshadows her running mate, John McCain to the point that he fears her turning against him.
Worse yet, she appeals to the worst side of the people by whipping up hate and vindictiveness against candidate Barack Obama and all liberals. Then she becomes a despised woman with more shenanigans up her sleeve than a leprechaun. Again, we saw this on TV after the campaign as she resisted disappearing back into the woodwork as staffers expected her to do. Instead, she became the torch bearer of the Tea Party and helped ramp up divisive politics to a feverish pitch.
I was in New Orleans when she made a post-election appearance there. The crowds were ecstatic by her presence and thirsting for her leadership. I remained as perplexed as I was during the 2008 campaign wondering how such a person could rise to such heights. She had championed them and they had embraced her.
What Palin is good at is campaigning. Campaigning is fun and exciting, but it's not governing. Bill Clinton initiated the perpetual campaign and it has caught on not only for the winners of elections but for the losers as Palin has shown. This makes good copy for the media but that's all it is. Campaign mode lacks substance, seriousness and sincerity at a time when we face economic decline, resource depletion, war, injustice and climate change.
My great hope is that this film calls attention to the fatal flaw in our political system where we focus on horse races and winning at any cost all the while ignoring the problems that beg to be addressed.
If we don't get it together and soon, I fear we will lose not just the campaign but our country -- and our world as we know it.