Fair warning: I’m going to be a bit political here. Anyone who knows me well knows that I lean left in my political beliefs. That “lean” doesn’t mean I’m a constant Barack Obama supporter … nor should it mean that. I respect many of the things he’s done in office while also believing there is much more that could — and should — be done. I will also say that I was decidedly not a Sarah Palin fan. I thought she used her bully pulpit to do just that … bully. And the rhetoric that her bullying inspired was very frightening. I honestly thought President Obama would be assassinated soon after his election.
With those thoughts in the back of my mind, I watched the HBO movie, “Game Change,” expecting to see vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin eviscerated and presidential candidate Barack Obama worshipped. Imagine my surprise when neither of those things happened. Although she hadn’t seen it nor intended to see it, I’d heard that Ms. Palin called the movie “unfair” with a “liberal slant.” I found that to be not the case at all. The movie mentioned the Democratic candidates, but really only to compare them to McCain/Palin. Even the vaunted vice presidential debate focused much more on the lead up to the event and Ms. Palin’s delivery and not any commentary on political positions of either party.
I watched the first half of the movie feeling very sorry for then-Governor Palin. Chosen almost seemingly at random for her “celebrity potential” to combat the history-making star power of Barack Obama, she was thrown into a dog-eat-dog world of campaigning. Without the lifeline of her family around her, Ms. Palin shut down and became almost catatonic at the unrealistic expectations she had to meet to be a successful running mate. Quotes were attributed to her that she didn’t make; she was accused of over-spending on clothes, even though she wasn’t the person who bought said clothes; she barely got any opportunity to meet with Senator McCain during the long, drawn-out process; plus, she had to watch herself publicly made fun of on multiple TV shows. In the second half of the movie, though, Ms. Palin rallied and became the formidable campaigner she currently is. I must confess that, personally, I rooted for her to fight back and succeed in the male-dominated world that tried to corral her freedom of speech and her “true self.”
Politically, though, I watched in horrified amazement as the truth came out … no one in Mr. McCain’s election team “vetted” Ms. Palin’s ability as a functional leader of the country. She knew nothing about foreign affairs, economic policy (and remember this was 2008 at the beginning of our current economic crises) or really anything but Alaskan politics. Those facts may be absolutely fine for an ordinary citizen, but they are not fine for the potential vice president of the United States. In addition, Ms. Palin took her “maverick” status to heart and, against the campaign staff’s wishes, began maligning Mr. Obama with (thinly) veiled terrorist accusations. As everyone may remember, Senator McCain eventually became forced to tamp down the rampant hostility at rallies, arguing with his own supporters that Mr. Obama was a decent man and an American.
The movie ends (as we all know) with McCain/Palin losing to Obama/Biden. Still, the focus of the movie remained on Ms. Palin. At Senator McCain’s concession speech, the cheering turned to chanting a name … “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.” The looks of horror on the campaign manager’s face and his second-in-command echoed my feelings of dread and discouragement. They finally realized that, by choosing a running mate solely on an indefinable “star potential,” they’d harmed the country. They subverted a process that’s supposed to help us choose between qualified candidates based on their alignment with our beliefs.
I live in a conservative state, so I know first-hand that, for the most part, those who don’t agree with me politically are nevertheless decent people who care about their friends, family and community. I also know that I care about my friends, family and community. Yet political rhetoric demonizes those who disagree with us. A neighbor called me stupid when she discovered that I voted Democrat in the last general election. A woman from my church whose child I watched over a weekend so she could go on a mission trip with her husband told me I had no idea what I was talking about on a topic we disagreed on and she believed I should just be quiet (she didn’t say it that nicely). I guess I was trustworthy enough to watch her child but not trustworthy enough to vote my conscience.
If the vitriol is that extreme on a personal level, imagine how much greater it is in the technology-heavy Internet and media circus our country has become. News focuses on what’s exciting about the candidate, not about whether the facts support policies and political statements. Everyone’s looking for the next specialist in soundbites, not the next leader. We now have high unemployment, multiple wars, a struggling economy, a planet that’s choking on our toxic waste, abject poverty, and world/national leaders who are trying to diminish women’s roles practically back to the Dark Ages.
Our political process is, if not completely broken, then in a great state of disrepair, and I’m scared. This political game isn’t fun anymore, and the price of losing is too high. Maybe it’s time for us to realize that political campaigns are not games, with rewards for winning the most voters, no matter if the campaigners have to sell their (and their country’s) souls to succeed. Politics is a deadly serious business that will change our lives and our country’s future.
I’m just afraid that, if we continue to play the game, we’ve already lost.