Sarah Palin isn’t the standout in HBO’s adaptation of the best-selling book “Game Change,”which was screened last night in Washington. For me, the standout is John McCain. He’s everything the former Alaska governor is not. McCain is a war hero overflowing with national and world political experience. He curses like an affable cross-country trucker. Ed Harris as the 2008 GOP presidential nominee had me at the first of many dropped f-bombs. And McCain thinks more about the country than his personal circumstances.
Ok, he’s no saint. He did put Palin on the ticket as a game-changing move when his preferred choice — Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) — would have led to a GOP revolt. Also, in the middle of the economic implosion, McCain suspended his campaign ostensibly to help negotiate a bailout bill. What it was really about was changing the negative trajectory of his presidential campaign against then-Sen. Barack Obama.
But, at times, watching Harris’s portrayal of McCain was like looking at a forgotten photo album filled with pictures of an old friend who you admired — but who you don’t talk to anymore because he’s changed.
In the movie, McCain’s statesman-like nature came through at key moments. He refused to make Rev. Jeremiah “God damn America” Wright an issue against Obama during the campaign. That would have been a not-so-subtle play on racial animus. And when he did later green-light the use of Bill Ayers as a campaign issue, you could see the look of shock and horror on his face at what doing so meant. Shouts of “terrorist,” “Muslim” and “kill him” in reference to Obama poisoned the atmosphere at the time. That he later tamped down the fiery responses of his supporters was great. But, as I wrote at the time, his chilling dance with the dark side went on longer than it should.
And then there’s Palin.
All the hype is true. Julianne Moore is so superb in her portrayal of Palin that all those emotions I felt during the 2008 campaign came flooding back. Call me cold and heartless, but “Game Change” didn’t make me feel sorry for Sarah Palin. I shook my head at her stunning lack of basic knowledge. I gasped at the briefing she got that started with a map of Europe. And I recoiled at her growing narcissism.
Palin is a diva’s diva who grew to know exactly what she was worth to the campaign and reveled in the all the attention. Yet, she despaired at the harsh coverage she received. She’s a regional player who hungered for the world stage, but who was unprepared for — and unwilling to prepare for — its demands. Yet, she is a natural-born star who could chew up the scenery if given the right lines. Keep an ear out for lines such as, “She’s a red-light performer” and “She’s a great actress.” And pay attention to how the campaign finally gets Palin to prepare for her one and only debate with then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.)
We got the first taste of her talent during her 2008 vice presidential nomination speech in St. Paul, Minn. I was there. Because it was so masterful, it would be the first of many times that I would write all about Sarah in comparison to her alter ego, the fictional character Eve Harrington in the 1950 movie “All About Eve.” But while the nation swooned the next day, I made it clear that I wasn’t buying her act.
Like Eve Harrington in her debut as Margo Channing's understudy, Sarah Palin gave the performance of her life last night. But Palin must do more than bathe in the waves of love from kindred spirits. The Republican nominee for vice president of the United States needs to show that there's substance behind all that ambition and that she possesses more than a superficial knowledge of the serious issues facing the country. And she's got to do it soon.
As you already know and will be reminded tomorrow night, Palin never did.