As part of my generally futile attempt to simplify my life, I chose a Comcast package that combines my telephone, email and television. The bundle gives me HBO — where I watched "Too Big To Fail," about the 2008 financial crisis, six times last year.
I know better than to believe everything I read, never mind what I see dramatized on a screen, and yet ... sometimes visual impact screams "truth" and flows through one's eyes into one's brain to settle there.
Example: The end of the movie "The Candidate," in which Robert Redford, playing an idealistic candidate for U.S. Senate, learns that he has won and asks his election specialist: "What do we do now?"
That one scene defines people whose skills lie in campaigning, who can simplify complicated issues into winning arguments, and then must face the reality of having to govern. That is politics becoming government, in a nutshell, and once we understand this, it's easier to understand what we see each day in the news.
As voters, we want answers, and reward the candidates who seem to have them. But even if the candidate knows what he is doing about the issues of the day, after he takes office the issues will change; some will be completely unexpected and new. This is why we look for character in our presidential candidates, for attributes that will allow the president to rise to almost any occasion. Sometimes, in our eagerness to justify hope, we invent those attributes or allow the media to feed them to us, which explains how we elected our current president.
Those of us who are political junkies are more aware than many voters of what goes on in political campaigns, so that instead of being puzzled by some of the long-term results, we can appreciate the absurdity of much of what constitutes democracy.
This is why I am highly recommending my latest favorite HBO political movie, for those of you who get HBO or have friends who will invite you over. "Game Change," the story of the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign, is riveting, rich and rewarding. I suspect that it is also pretty accurate and a learning moment for us all.
Though I haven't read the book on which it was based, I did read Sarah Palin's autobiography "Going Rogue," and her stories almost match the events in the movie, though sometimes with a different direction of blame. As easy as it is to imagine a politician/public figure as self-serving, it is even easier to imagine professional campaign consultants/staffers trying to shift blame away from their own role.
Taking these realities into account, you can enjoy the drama. The cast is perfect: thankfully, Tina Fey was not chosen to play Palin. Instead, Julianne Moore becomes Sarah Palin and gives the viewer a person to like, admire, be appalled by and, eventually, feel sorry for, as she is overwhelmed by that other campaign reality, the 24-hour media cycle that encourages media silliness and savagery.
The day after watching Ed Harris as Sen. John McCain, I was surprised to see the real John McCain on a weekend news show, stating that he had not watched the movie. Too bad; he missed a great performance of himself! He was very likeable in the film, at least to those of us who don't have unrealistic expectations of politicians.
Woody Harrelson playing McCain strategist Steve Schmidt is another reason to watch "Game Change." This is what the professional game players are. This is what a campaign is, albeit not always as interesting as the Palin campaign.
Like the Republicans who cheered her at their convention, I loved Sarah Palin through most of the 2008 campaign, while, like the McCain staff, slowly developing concerns about her readiness to potentially be president. At one point, McCain says, "That poor girl. She wasn't ready for this — we threw her in the deep end without a life preserver."
I laughed through my first viewing of "Game Change," felt like crying through my second. This movie didn't make Sarah Palin look bad. Can't say the same for the rest of America.
It's clear from the film what happened. Charismatic Barack Obama, barely vetted, was thrilling us with the chance to be transformed. The McCain campaign saw no way to beat him without offering a similar example of diversity. Republican maverick McCain wanted independent maverick Joe Lieberman, but polling showed the Republican base wouldn't support a pro-choice former Democrat.
So, like candidates before him, he picked a woman. Charismatic, pro-life Palin, barely vetted, was chosen to infuse that Republican base with new grass-roots energy, which she did.
John McCain balked at going negative, even with valid points. Yet, some of his grass-roots supporters attacked Obama with wilder, less valid points, rumors that took hold in the absence of proper media examination of the Democratic candidate. The Obama-enchanted voters recoiled from such negativity. As one of McCain's advisers said at the end of the movie, "We never had a chance."
If you can, see "Game Change." Then, wait to learn the next Republican choices, and see if we've all learned anything at all.
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Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a regular contributor to the opinion pages.