Weekend Film Recommendation: Game Change

The most remarkable thing about Tina Fey’s SNL skit about Sarah Palin’s notorious Couric interview wasn’t the accuracy of her impersonation. It was the fact that the joke spoke for itself so plainly in the verbatim repetition of Palin’s words. If there’s a joke in this week’s film recommendation, it’s of a similar form. Julianne Moore plays Palin in Game Change, the HBO adaptation of the “high risk, high reward” selection of a running mate capable of shoring up the McCain campaign’s lack of popularity with younger—and especially female—voters.

A skin-headed Woody Harrelson plays Steve Schmidt, the campaign’s senior strategist. In a textbook case of the Halo Effect in action, Schmidt champions Palin once her inimitable charm compels him to leave her competence in politics and foreign affairs unquestioned. He easily sells the rest of the team on Palin’s suitability, even over McCain’s preference for Joe Lieberman. Notwithstanding the popularity and momentum gained by Palin’s rousing speech at the RNC upon accepting the nomination, Schmidt soon realizes that Palin is more of a liability than he had anticipated. Before long, the McCain campaign had to grapple with Troopergate, the Couric interview, and Palin’s general inability to differentiate between North and South Korea or between the federal government and the Federal Reserve.

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She also didn’t handle with much grace the creeping awareness that she had bitten off much, much more than she could chew. At times, she became catatonic; at other times, she was violently resentful at the way she felt treated by the staff. And her petulant outbursts never make clear whether Palin blames it all on herself or the “lame-stream media” (Harold Pollack is quite right on this one – why a mother to a physically disabled child coined the term “lame-stream media” just shows what a wasted opportunity Palin was for the country).

The two main characters both undergo a sad development throughout the film. Schmidt begins the campaign with ambitions of installing a noble and worthy leader in the Oval Office. But by the end, he happily jettisons that aspiration when he suggests that Palin ought to memorize 25 answers to pre-packaged debate questions, just to forestall the impending catastrophe of the VP debate against Biden. The plan works beautifully, and he oddly appears not so much relieved as he is proud of the Pygmalion he’s helped produce. For her part, Palin also goes through an un-flattering development. She begins as the hockey mom whose principal concerns are understandably with her constituents back home in Alaska. But that admirable concern eventually becomes a parochial distraction from more pressing national matters, and it’s also a leading indicator of Palin’s weakening capacity to cope under the pressures of office. It’s therefore all the more sad when she concludes the campaign convinced that she’s outgrown Alaska, as though obscurity doesn’t suit her any more.

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Even-handedness is never assured in political dramas of this sort—especially when, as here, the wounds of history remain so fresh—but Game Change has an air of fairness without flattering any egos. McCain, played by Ed Harris in an uncharacteristically middling performance, declines to intervene once Palin’s incompetence becomes apparent for fear that she may direct her anger toward him. Neither character seems particularly courageous as a result. Nevertheless, both of them inspire considerable sympathy: McCain, for the sense in which he feels authentic disappointment at the way the campaign inspired such vitriol toward Obama among the Republican base; Palin, for the sense in which she ingenuously aspires to being the next Reagan, only to be told that she’s not a fit successor.

On this last point, two of my favorite scenes are close to the very end, when Palin voices her determination to deliver a concession speech alongside McCain’s. Her interactions with McCain as he passes along the torch of the Republican party, and Schmidt as he hopes to keep the honor of politics intact are potent and well-wrought. While McCain encourages Palin to strive for something bigger, Schmidt voices the audience’s urgent hope that Palin be reminded of her limits. Presumably Schmidt’s guilt from having been the one to champion Palin’s selection all those months earlier leads to this one scene as a great payoff.

First Pat Robertson …

No, John McCain didn’t come out for legalizing marijuana. But he did say something more subtle and interesting.

… now John McCain. Or that’s what I thought when I saw the HuffPo headline:

John McCain On Marijuana:
‘Maybe We Should Legalize’

Actually, that’s not quite right. McCain was saying something more subtle, and it mostly wasn’t about marijuana.

First, he made a perfectly sensible point about drug policy generally: as long as there’s a demand for illicit drugs in the U.S., there will be a supply from Mexico, which puts the onus for Mexican bloodshed above the border and not below it. (Later he went on to say that we ought to have a “conversation” about drug-related incarceration.)

Responding to shouts of “Legalize it!,” McCain said:

Well, maybe we should legalize it. We are certainly moving that way so far as marijuana is concerned, but I will respect the will of the people.

Since the problem he was discussing was drug smuggling, which is mostly drugs other than cannabis, I take “Maybe we should legalize it” to be about all drugs, not just cannabis. Then he notes that the actual trend of policy is in that direction as far as marijuana is concerned. I’m not sure what interpretation to put on “I will respect the will of the people,” unless it means “I’m not for it unless the polls back me up.”

So no, I don’t think McCain was really joining the Robertson camp. But it does seem as if he might go much further than that – might vote to get rid of the drug laws altogether – if he thought the voters would let him get away with it. Complete legalization of everyting is probably a bad idea, and certainly an idea without much mass support. But it has a lot more hidden elite support than you might guess. And McCain seems to think he can now get away with flirting with the idea. His belief on that point is evidence.

Friends of marijuana legalization – a much more plausible idea, in my view, than legalizing cocaine or meth – should, I think, take heart from learning that McCain isn’t really coming out on their side. After all, what are the odds that Robertson and McCain are both right about something? Pretty long, I figure.

Who Are Those Guys?

Or gals.  Either way, some political anthropology is in order.

Via Drum, Dave Weigel objects to the media narrative about the supposed new Republican flexibility on raising taxes on those making more than $250,000:

When I carp about Meet the Pressistan, this is what I’m talking about — a mobius strip conversation among the same handful of people, giving the illusion that a broader conversation must also be moving the same way. For two weeks, Tom Cole has been on the record for raising the top rate. Tom Coburn has been talking this way for two years. When will somebody sit down the Sunday show bookers and tell them that the votes of reluctant House members, very vulnerable to primaries, matter more than whatever a compromise-friendly Republican senator is re-re-re-re-stating?

Before you can influence your target audience, though, you need to know something about them.  And in this case, Blue Blogistan has little actionable intelligence on Meet the Pressistan; who are these Sunday Show Bookers anyway?

I’ve been wondering this for a while.  We all know that John McCain has been on a Sunday show something like 765 straight weeks.  But who makes this decision and why?  Many of the normal variables don’t seem to apply here.  Because people want to look at him (aka “the Megyn Kelly Effect”?).  That won’t work, unless my straight male body is really missing something.  Is it because McCain gets great ratings?  Unlikely, because the point of ratings is that you are trying to present something new and different.  In any event, IIRC, none of these shows gets good ratings: they are loss leaders for the networks and maybe even for the RNC Fox. 

If we really want to try to advance what is called, in one of the great political euphemisms of all time, the “national conversation” (in the euphemism department this even beats “enhanced interrogation techniques”), then we really need to know who makes these decisions and on what basis they are made.  I don’t even know if there are people who really have the job of “Sunday show bookers” — probably someone called a “producer” or “associate producer” or some such.  How does one get those jobs?  Are they journalists?  Who tells them what to do?  What are their or their bosses’ incentives?  The Sunday show seems to me one of the great paradoxes of what passes for modern journalism: the cognoscenti spend a great time watching them and complaining about them but few people really seem to know how they actually work.

And if we don’t know that, we might as well find ourselves jumping off a high cliff into a river.

McCain jumps the shark

Skipping a classified briefing on Benghazi to demand an investigation of Benghazi was a bridge too far.

It appears that even some media outlets are getting tired of John McCain’s shtick. His decision to skip a classified Senate Intelligence Committee briefing about what happened in Benghazi in order to hold a press conference demanding a Watergate-style special committee to investigate what happened in Benghazi was a bridge too far.

Most of McCain’s Republican colleagues also played hooky. As Andrew Sullivan Tweeted, “Why seek answers when you already know them from Fox conspiracy dept?”

McCain & Co. are ghouls, feeding on the bodies of the dead. Decent people should cross the street to avoid encountering any of them.

Yes, we all know that you Republicans hate the fact that Obama is not running the sort of crooked, scandal-ridden administration that Bush II, Reagan, and Nixon ran. But he isn’t. Deal with it.

The Last Refuge of Scoundrels

Filegate.  Travelgate. Whitewater.  Birtherism. Solyndra. Fast and Furious.  Notice a pattern?

When there is a Democratic President, Republicans are quick are quick to make wild accusations of wrongdoing that turn out to be a huge nothingburger.  (Oh yes, they did impeach a President for having sex with an intern.  Saving the Republic, that.).

Now we are hearing about Benghazi.  There might be things to be investigated there, but it is painfully obvious that Republicans have no interest in actually finding them out about it.  If they did, then they would attempt to actually investigate.  Instead, we have hissy fit threats of filibusters from has-beens like John McCain and pompous lectures from never-weres like Lindsey Graham.  By the way, you know during the seven times that embassies and consulates were hit during the Bush Administration?  Still waiting for outraged threats from McCain and Graham.  You know that small event that occurred on September 11, 2001?  If Democrats had responded with half the vitriol of Republicans after Benghazi, Fox News would have accused them of treason.

It’s been obvious for a while that the essential Republican ideology, at least after plutocracy, has been to put party over country.  After January 1st, when the Republicans don’t budge on raising taxes on the $370,000+ a year crowd, Obama might try to remind the American people of this.

Instead of shutting down Organizing For America, the President needs to make it a permanent feature of the political landscape, holding as many rallies as he can in as many states as he can.

And if the Villagers start reaching for their scented handkerchiefs over the President not being “presidential,” all he needs to do is respond that he will spend more time in Washington once the GOP grows up.

UPDATE:  John McCain cares so deeply about protecting national security in light of Benghazi that he skipped a classified CIA briefing on it in order to give a press conference attacking the President.  What a pathetic, bitter, cranky old man….

You mean, we *weren’t* greeted as liberators?

John McCain accuses Colin Powell of getting us into the Iraq War.

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama for re-election is welcome as a sign of the thinking of one piece of the conservative establishment, and also as a fairly clear sign that Powell thinks Obama is going to win. And Powell, in addition to saying nice things about Obama, hit Romney on two sore spots: his ignorance of foreign affairs and the variability of his positions. I.e., he managed, in his preternaturally calm voice. to raise both the Commander-in-Chief test and the character issue. Still, unless Powell goes out on the stump or works the phones, I wouldn’t have expected it to matter much.

That clearly isn’t the view from the other side of the line of scrimmage. The Red Team is frankly decompensating. Sununu’s casual race-card play (and semi-retraction) is nothing new, coming from Sununu, but it’s a little bit surprising Romney couldn’t, or didn’t want to, rein him in. He knows, or should know by now, that in a Presidential campaign no Sununus is good Sununus.

And of course John McCain being vicious is about as newsworthy as the Pope saying Mass. I’m sure he’ll never forgive Powell for what he regards as a betrayal in 2008, and his hatred for Obama seems to be boundless.

Between them Sununu and McCain managed to ensure that even relatively low-information voters learned about Powell’s endorsement, which could otherise have slipped comfortably under the radar. And the President was happy to keep the story alive another day.

But the weirdest aspect of the story is the issue McCain chose to attack Powell on: the invasion of Iraq. Powell properly gave Obama credit for getting us out of Iraq. McCain – yes, the McCain who in 2008 wanted to keep our troops in Iraq forever – decided to spice up his second day of atttacks on Powell’s character by saying:

Colin Powell, interestingly enough, said that Obama got us out of Iraq. But it was Colin Powell, with his testimony before the U.N. Security Council, that got us into Iraq.

Now, how many different ways is that weird? Continue reading “You mean, we *weren’t* greeted as liberators?”

McCain on McCain

“Petty, partisan, and disingenuous.” That’s what McCain said about Senators who vote against well-qualified Supreme Court nominees: just before voting against two of them.

“Petty, partisan, and disingenuous.” I don’t always agree with His Maverickness, but give the man credit where it’s due; when he’s right, he’s right.

Footnote Somehow wingnut discussions of Kagan’s lack of judicial experience never seem to mention that she was nominated for the DC Circuit by Bill Clinton in 1999 – a job for which she was well qualified – and the Republican majority in the Senate didn’t even give her the courtesy of a hearing.

Would a Senator Crist Caucus With the Democrats?

Why would a Senator Crist caucus with the people who put a knife in his back?

Now that it looks like Florida Governor Charlie Crist might run for the US Senate seat as an independent, and that he has a decent chance of winning, we might think for a moment about what kind of Senator he could be.

If Crist gets in the race as an Indy, expect the punditocracy to compare him to Joe Lieberman, and predict that if elected he would caucus with the Republicans.  But there is one huge difference in the two cases.

When Lieberman was challenged from the left, every Democratic officeholder backed him in the primary.  Barack Obama came to Connecticut to campaign for him.  Chris Dodd endorsed him (this was before the financial meltdown and such an endorsement might have been worth something). Only after Holy Joe lost the primary did Democrats turn to Ned Lamont, the party’s official winner.

Contrast this with Florida: there, Republicans are fleeing to wingnut Marco Rubio’s campaign well before the primary.  That tells you — and it should tell Crist — a hell of a lot about his Republican friends.  And it should also give him pause about caucusing with the GOP if he wins the race.

There is one other important difference that militates against my argument: Lieberman was an incumbent Senator, and Crist of course is not.  But I don’t see that as particularly relevant here.  Crist was recruited by national Republicans.  He saved John McCain’s presidential campaign in the Florida primary — and was rewarded this week by attacks from Arizona’s senior senator.  All his supposed friends went south on him as soon as it got tough; they didn’t even bother with neutrality.  Once Crist takes the knife out of his back, he might consider whom he would be able to trust in the Senate — if he gets there.