Sarah Palin’s surprise entrance into the national spotlight during the 2008 presidential election made the whole world do a double take. Adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name, Game Change narrates her meteoric rise and the difficulties of McCain’s camp choosing Palin as the vice-presidential running mate. The film provides a rich understanding of how the Republican campaign was divided even though Palin resonated with a reactionary voter base.
John McCain’s (Ed Harris) camp has just turned around the campaign and have nearly clinched the Republican nomination. The campaign advisers are unable to find a suitable running mate until Rick Davis (Peter MacNicol) recommends Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) as a wildcard to excite the Republican base with her religious and conservative values. Just prior to her announcement as McCain’s running mate, Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) asks Palin if she understands her role in the presidential race, is willing to cave on a few political disagreements between her and McCain, and allow the nation to probe her, her family, and her past: “You Betcha.”
She did not exactly say “You Betcha,” but her affirmative response was quickly returned without truly understanding what was about to transpire. McCain’s camp knowingly chose Palin not because she was the best candidate for Vice President, but because she could rally the conservatives and independents. As the narrative continues, it becomes clear that Palin does not have the knowledge of world history and foreign policy to stand her ground during interviews and debates. One scene has advisers teaching the basics of world history which fascinates Palin as she aggressively writes down notes. The tutoring is not absorbed properly and she returns to her reliance on quick, conversational wit to circumvent questions. Her unapologetic stance on religious and family values strikes a chord with many of the voters the McCain camp targets. She continuously provides inaccurate information regarding her Governorship and scandals in the past, and it negatively affects McCain’s run. Her inaccuracies are instinctive gut phrases and responses, or as Steven Colbert humorously calls it “truthiness”. It was that supposed instinct that divided the campaign in two.
The film explores a few anecdotes that point towards her eventual rogue actions. Palin is obsessive about how her native Alaska saw her. She continuously asks for poll numbers on how she is seen in her home state, and even mentions how she cannot wait to win the election in order to return to her state; Davis looks on in horror. Her obsession with Alaska is striking, especially since she resigned as Governor after her failed run for vice president. Palin is also a mother of five, with one child serving in Afghanistan, another expecting, and another with Downs Syndrome, she had the motherly touch that did garner sympathy during the election. She continues to play her instinctive part as a mother, many times we see her discussing politics with her camp with Trig in her lap. Lastly, she becomes despondent towards campaign advisers when she realizes that her interests and goals differs greatly from the general campaign. She was not prepared to be in the national spotlight, and she exhibits many symptoms of mental instability when the weight of campaigning lands on her.
Game Change examines how Palin’s inability to assist McCain clinch the win but gave her the momentum to keep up her role in politics long after Obama’s inauguration. The divide in America grew violently excessive since Bush v. Gore, and the McCain v. Obama election created such a large disparity between parties, especially as the health of the economy was a major issue. Racism and cries of a government having too far of a reach became a violent sentiment among some right-wing voters. One moment has McCain having to set the record straight after a woman states that Obama was a Muslim and was not a true American. It is the perfect example of the cultural divide and how inaccurate and racist information hurt the McCain campaign. Palin pandered towards voters who had this sentiment and continues to do so.
The performances are stellar, especially Moore’s dead-on impersonation of Palin. The arguments between the characters are chilling, and effectively explain how the divide within the camp transpired. The film has so much content that it frames the whole campaign in an objective, but not necessarily accurate light to explain where we are now as the country enters its next general election. There is no doubt that there are inaccuracies in the film and rarely do these biopics remain entirely objective. Instead, these films are designed to frame an issue from the not too distant past to explain what we are about to experience in the future. The same is true for The Social Network. As the 2012 Republican primaries continue, negative campaigning has reached unprecedented heights and has become an eye-sore in the American social consciousness. Game Change is an effective explanation for this deep divide in the Republican party.