Top Menu

Follow Taylor on Twitter

Female Villains and the John McCain Love Affair Continues in HBO’s ‘Game Change’


Palin has only herself to blame for how horribly she came off, but as she was the most hotly sought-after interview in the world at the time, the McCain campaign could have picked and chosen and been cleverly calculating about which journalist would win the prize. Wallace was responsible for one of the great blunders in political advance work of modern media history. – Back Stab, by John Podhoretz

Ed Harris and Julianne Moore

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 watching it 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 in “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.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 Responses to Female Villains and the John McCain Love Affair Continues in HBO’s ‘Game Change’

  1. Art Pronin March 11, 2012 at 3:21 am #

    if this were in theatres many are saying it would moore up for an oscar. btw-what happened to the facebook and twitter buttons on here to rec things?

  2. secularhumanizinevoluter March 11, 2012 at 6:52 am #

    Well an Emmy ain’t no piece of soggy melba toast with day old chopped liver on it!

  3. jjamele March 11, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    While I certainly did cringe again and again at the relentless “gosh this woman is stupid, and she’s destroying the chances of this awesome, decent man, John McCain, of being President,” I can’t help but disagree with the concept that what happened to the GOP campaign in 2008 was very largely Sarah Palin’s fault.

    Nobody drafted Palin to run for VP. It was her decision to go on the national stage, to brush aside the consideration that maybe she wasn’t ready for the bright lights and harsh realities of the modern political campaign.

    Nobody told Palin to reach her mid-forties without ever overcoming her incredible intellectual laziness- why didn’t she know why Korea was two nations? Why did she know so very little about the world or her own nation, for that matter? Because, in the end, she just didn’t see the relevance of that stuff in her own life . Which meant it was Unimportant. Boo hoo if she felt “ambushed” by “tough” questions any of my AP History students could have answered in a heartbeat.

    On the other hand, the part where Palin gets the reason we went into Iraq wrong was hysterical- when she says ‘because Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11,” she was just echoing the theme massaged by the White House from 2001 to 2004. So she didn’t get the memo from the Ministry of Truth that this was not the official story anymore?

    Another hysterical moment comes when Palin’s handlers complain she is saying things that “just aren’t true.” Oh, this campaign cared about the Truth? Another memo the governor didn’t get, I guess.

    Anyway, Palin was a grown-up who decided to take on a very tough job on very short notice. She wanted the cheering, chanting audiences, but she didn’t want to answer tough questions like “what newspapers do you read?” I don’t think it does the cause of women’s equality any favors by blaming her performance on the men around her.

    • secularhumanizinevoluter March 11, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      “Oh gosh, all of them”

    • rose0red March 11, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

      Yeah, Joe Scarborough and company seemed to think she came off rather well in the movie. They cited the debate/pre-debate meltdown scenes in particular, saying that it reflects well on her that she was a) melting down because of family concerns, especially a phone call with her deployed son in which she heard gunshots, b) that she was able to pull herself together and have the BEST DEBATE PERFORMANCE EVAR!!1!

      My head kind of exploded.

      First, I understand she was scared for her son. I can’t imagine how I’d feel in that situation. But this was a woman that would have been a heartbeat away from becoming commander in chief. I didn’t see the movie, but I did see part of the meltdown scene in the trailer, and if it is representative of what actually happened it scares me. If this were a man rocking in hysterics in the same situation, the first thing people would be asking is if he were levelheaded, strong, and sane enough to be president. Being terrified for your child is one thing, letting that overcome you to the point where you are incapacitated is quite another- if you want to be POTUS, anyway. Leaders of the free world need to be made of tougher stuff.

      Second, overstate her debate performance much? It wasokay. It wasn’t the trainwreck everyone thought it might be. Why are we lowering the bar of excellence for this woman?? Why should she get a cookie for something that would be a career-ender for any male politician (and probably most female ones)?

      Like you said, she didn’t have to reach her mid-forties knowing less about the world than my thirteen-year-old daughter. She accepted the offer being either shockingly ignorant of her own weaknesses, naive about what running on a presidential ticket entails, or she knew it all and simply didn’t care about the potential fallout for McCain and possibly the country. Nobody put a gun to her head. She could have said “No thank you, I don’t think I’m ready.”

  4. jjamele March 11, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    I meant “disagree with the concept that what happened WASN’T Sarah Palin’s fault,” darn it.

  5. fairmindedindependent March 11, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    It was the McCain campaign that picked Sarah Palin, yes she didn’t have to accept, but most do. She thought it was Gods plan, maybe she really believed it. Your right Taylor, Men always get a pass on everything and in the film, when he told Steve Schmidt asked him to talk to Gov Palin because he can’t control her no more, and John McCain said he couldn’t do it and that he was worried she would go after him next, when he was the Presidental candidate and he was scared to even talk to Gov Palin. The movie did show her to be a good mother but not good on foreign policy among other things. I cracked on in the end of the movie when that guy told Steve Schmidt that no one would remember her with in 48 hours, then McCain on stage thanked Sarah Palin, and the crowd chants Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, and Nicole Wallace has his dazed look on her face. Sarah Palin wasn’t about to go anywhere. I think the cast deserves emmys and even golden globes for their roles.

  6. Lake Lady March 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    When you consider who the political press are in the light of Bob Somerby’s definition: narrative writers, story tellers, who assign roles to people that harden into mythology, John Mccain = hero flyboy and so it will always be written.

    Most of them have fond memories of being younger and riding his merry prankster bus of old and listening to his funny tales of daring bravery. Or they know someone who did. They know he endured something that they could never survive so they idolize him.

    Palin is many things but to me the most significant is the fact that she is a living example of the dumbed down GOP base. Faith replaces reason with these folks and if you operate on that level then facts just don’t matter so don’t strain your brain trying to learn a few of them.

    • Cujo359 March 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      Yes, because in some sense we choose them, I suspect that the success of presidential candidates tells us something about ourselves. In the case of Palin, I think you’re exactly right – she is the modern Right, in many ways.

  7. ladywalker68 March 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    John McCain claims he didn’t watch the movie, but, he sticks up for Sarah in this interview:

  8. RAJensen March 12, 2012 at 5:34 am #

    The blunder of the McCain campaign was the thinking that putting a woman on the ticket would appeal to disappointed supporters of the Hillary Clinton campaign on the assumption that women are dumb enought to suppport any woman even one who was diametrically opposed to everything Hillary Clinton had stood for durinhg her entire career.
    Putting Marco Rubio on a Romney-Rubio ticket assumes that Hispanic voters are dumb enouigh to vote for the ticket even though Rubio stands for everything that Hispanic voters are opposed to.

  9. Lake Lady March 12, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    Watched it last night. McCain was marginalized into a one dementional almost doddering figure but Julianne Moore nailed the Palin character. I love Woody Harrelson in everything he does and he did not disappoint.

    Taylor is right no mention of one of their main motivating forces pointed out by RAJenson

  10. Donald from Hawaii March 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    I thought “Game Change” was a great film. Certainly, it reinforced my impression that a McCain administration would have been an unequivocal disaster, had voters gone that route. I really don’t remember a major party presidential nominee in my lifetime whose personal judgment and political instincts were as demonstrably lousy as Sen. McCain.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong