HBO’s ‘Game Change’ and the Missing Hillary Effect
WASHINGTON – HBO’s “Game Change” is great fun to watch, with Sarah Palin to Julianne Moore what Margaret Thatcher was to Meryl Streep.
Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt gives an early take to what Sarah Palin says about the Queen Elizabeth II that is so priceless he deserves a mention simply for that one look.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Nicole Wallace says HBO’s film is “true enough to make me squirm.” Only she can deliver that assessment, because she was there. As an expert on what happened in 2008, HBO’s “Game Change” covers only the 60-day period inside the bubble McCain-Palin bubble.
So, as true as Wallace’s comments were on “This Week,” watching the film it’s as if the McCain campaign thought of putting a woman on the Republican ticket for the first time in history on a lark. Because they simply needed a galvanizing moment against the phenomenon that Barack Obama had become. They did and Danny Strong adapted the book as it is, with Heilemann and Halperin missing it for the same reason the women in “Game Change” fare less well than the men.
But then something happened on the way to the Republican convention in St. Paul–and, presto chango, there was Palin. – Game Change, page 353, chapter “Sarahcuda”
The telling of the 2008 story of Clinton’s historic candidacy in the book “Game Change” is one of the reasons I knew I had to write The Hillary Effect, even though in the era of Obama it wouldn’t be an easy road.
Clinton’s rip roaring primary finish put us in a moment in time where not only 18 million cracks in the ultimate glass ceiling had occurred, but we’d just watched the heavyweight championship political match of modern history that nominated the first African American. However, Hillary’s loss had left many of her supporters bereft, unwilling even to let go. It wasn’t “presto-chango, there was Palin.” It was the Hillary Effect, as well as the fantasy that her voters would vote for McCain-Palin in big numbers.
As historic as Clinton’s candidacy was and what she accomplished through it, McCain picking Sarah Palin was a first in Republican history, too. They certainly knew it, which is why they went searching for a woman on Google.
But the most stunning missing piece in “Game Change” is that John McCain once again is completely un-examined. He’s funny and profane, sweet and un-involved, but that’s never examined in the way Sarah Palin is.
John McCain is portrayed as a guy who just happened to be the nominee, but who had absolutely no responsibility for choosing Sarah Palin in the first place. Throughout the HBO film, John McCain, played by Ed Harris, who never gets to deliver anything but a one dimensional character because the script won’t let him, seems like a passenger to the plot.
There’s got to be a villain, so who is it?
John Podhoretz supplies it and he blames the whole thing on Nicole Wallace, but also Steve Schmidt. Perhaps if John McCain hadn’t run such a disastrous campaign no one would have talked.
Nicolle Wallace was the onetime consultant to CBS News and media aide to George W. Bush who was assigned to work with Sarah Palin after the Alaska governor was chosen as John McCain’s running mate. It was Wallace who assured the McCain campaign that her dear friend Katie Couric, a committed liberal with a history of interviewing Republicans and conservatives in a quietly nasty way, was the right journalist to conduct a major early interview with the extremely conservative vice-presidential nominee.
How is it that John McCain never has to answer for anything, not even choosing Sarah Palin?
This has been going on for years.
Tiptoeing around McCain’s political malpractice in allowing Palin to be chosen continues the kid glove treatment that he’s always gotten. He’s as Teflon, except to the Rush Limbaugh crowd, as Ronald Reagan, someone who couldn’t get nominated today.
In my book, I certainly do not give Hillary the same courtesy and no one should. In “What If” in my book, the price is paid for the disastrous campaign Hillary ran, but especially for the man she let run it, Mark Penn. But that’s on her, too, because it was her campaign.
Danny Strong’s adaptation and the stellar direction by Jay Roach focus on Palin’s catastrophic gaffes, gaps in knowledge and emotional meltdowns, because it’s where the drama lies.
Sarah Palin’s candidacy fell apart because she was completely unready for the role. But Palin’s talent as a political performer was real as we saw in 2010 when she helped lead the Tea Party to prowess that opened out on a colossal midterm for the right. It’s the historic losses Democrats suffered in the midterm that began the Republican war on women.
Though it’s not a part of “Game Change” history and doesn’t belong in HBO’s film, it’s important to note that Sarah Palin ended up coming to the aid of Sen. McCain’s and helped get him re-elected. Who knows, maybe she’ll one day hold his Senate seat.
“Iron Lady” didn’t get Margaret Thatcher right, though Meryl Streep did and got an Oscar for it.
HBO’s “Game Change” gets Sarah Palin right and so did Julianne Moore. But like in the book, it’s Sarah Palin’s fault or maybe it’s all Nicole Wallace’s fault, with the men never blamed or even examined much, except for someone vetting her in 5 short days.
In “Game Change,” whatever version you’re considering, it’s always the woman’s fault.
It’s why I have a chapter in my book of the same title “It’s Always the Woman’s Fault.” Because when men write the story it is.
That’s the way it was in 2008, but it’s not anymore.
Taylor Marsh is the author of the new book, The Hillary Effect – Politics, Sexism and the Destiny of Loss, which is now available in print on Amazon. Marsh is a veteran political analyst and commentator. She has been profiled in the Washington Post, The New Republic, and has been seen on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, as well as on radio across the dial and on satellite, including the BBC. Marsh lives in the Washington, D.C. area. This column is cross posted from her new media blog.