Saturday, April 14, 2018

everything has a reason: McCain picks Palin, 2008

** This post reviews Game Change, the 2012 made-for-HBO film **

Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin
Game Change is the fascinating, Emmy-darling account of Sarah Palin's role in the 2008 election.  Although not a flattering portrait of the then-governor of Alaska (played by Julianne Moore), it makes clear she was (also) victim to a careless campaign.  And she was 2-3 gaffes short of respectability.

Though based-on-fact (Nicolle Wallace called the film "true enough to make me squirm"), Game Change is also prophetic: even as Palin becomes a laughingstock her popularity soars among the base, leading to defensive egomania and the "going rogue" (reclaimed) pejorative.

As depicted here, John McCain grew to fear Palin, even as he inched away from the loose-screws showing up at GOP campaign events.  It could've been worse: with Palin hapless at debate prep, her desperate team noted her acting skills and wrote lines for her to memorize (it worked).

Game Change offers psychological nuggets.  Near the end of the first hour, campaign latecomer Wallace (Sarah Paulson) has this epiphany about the hurried vetting process: "You guys didn't grill her because you wanted it to work."  Of this failure, adviser Mark Salter (Jamey Sheridan) later says, "It haunts me."
Finally, the beaten candidate (Ed Harris) confides to strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson as the film's protagonist) that his (McCain's) father and grandfather lost will-to-live after their respective service to country, thus "I can't quit."
So: Why Palin?  The usual explanations -- youth, gender, conservative credentials, her sons (one bound for Iraq, another with special needs), a lagging campaign needed disruption -- explain her being considered, not the inattention both to her insecurities and ignorance of world affairs.  If the campaign was out of time, well, why did a major-party campaign wait until out-of-time?

When behavior seems incomprehensible, we often resort to insults, but Senator John McCain and staff were neither stupid nor crazy.  Comprehending irrational behavior requires acknowledging the role of emotions -- the psyche -- with "conscious vs. unconscious" being largely a dichotomy of convenience.  Conversely, to reject unconscious motivations primarily for lack of proof is a fallacy, the appeal to ignorance.

There are enough dots in Game Change for an arrow pointing to McCain's choice, especially in light of subsequent history.  All concerned are amazed by the adulation greeting Barack Obama (Palin gropes for a metaphor: "I didn't know we were running against a Greek god").  At the end, when Schmidt seeks to block Palin's intended "concession speech" -- unprecedented for a V.P. candidate -- he forbids disrespect to the election of the first African-American president.

Inevitably, the Obama moment aggravated conservative-party anxieties in a browning America.  This anxiety naturally manifests in vice presidents (nominees), at once a ceremonial position and source of future presidents.  In 1968, Richard Nixon chose Spiro Agnew -- whose Greek Orthodox father made him diverse for the era -- overlooking corruption that forced Agnew to resign in disgrace a year before Nixon.  The need for young blood led to Dan Quayle's nomination in 1988, nearly as misguided as Palin's.  The 2000 GOP opted for denial, with mainstay Dick Cheney appointing himself George W. Bush's running mate.

As much as John McCain wanted to be president, he looked across barricades at an historic phenomenon.  We know Obama's election didn't fix America, but in 2008 it seemed possible.  On the contrary, a McCain victory would've been anticlimactic -- and widely attributed to racism.  (Note: McCain insisted on a clean campaign, to the point of barring use of Reverend Jeremiah Wright in campaign ads.)
The above considered, the McCain camp wanted to win, but with a condition (however unconscious): they wanted victory by act of God.  Thus, they let the spirit move them, ignoring protocol, to the obscure but deeply religious (and female) Sarah Palin.

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