‘Game Change’: It’s Time to Leave Sarah Palin Alone—For Our Own Good

Earlier in the week, I wrote that we could probably save our time and breath by not wasting time condemning Kirk Cameron for, totally unsurprisingly, telling the world he disapproves of gay people. On a larger scale, the exact same thing is true of Sarah Palin. Once a potentially powerful figure in the Republican party, she’s become an entirely conventional low-level media personality. The only reason there’s any sense that she is a more important figure is because Sarah Palin and the people around her are genius trolls, masters at turning everything into an opportunity for grievance and another shot at inclusion in the news cycle—even if the possibility of dominating it is long past. The latest voluminous fuel for their fire? HBO’s Game Change, an adaptation of and expansion on the sections of the book by the same name that explore John McCain’s late-breaking selection of Palin to be his running mate in the 2008 election, and the unraveling of the campaign that followed. For the past several weeks, complaining about the movie’s taken up almost as much oxygen in the conservative media criticism industry as Rush Limbaugh’s self-destruction, even though the latter act is of far greater import in American politics.

Which is funny, because the movie doesn’t particularly deserve it. This is not to say it’s good. Julianne Moore’s Palin impersonation is dandy, but for most of the movie, Game Change mostly feels like a very high-minded episode of Saturday Night Live: you’re mostly comparing the impressions and the reality in a way that doesn’t let you enter the narrative, a process that’s not aided by the less-than-naturalistic dialogue.

But most importantly, the only way this exhaustingly-trod story could have been genuinely revelatory is if it had any insight into Palin’s personality. But except for a single scene where Palin breaks down while talking to her son Track, who is deployed overseas, Game Change has next to no interest in translating a woman whose motivations and worldview have been infuriatingly indecipherable to large swaths of the American electorate. Instead, it zips through a cycle of emotions dominated, in this retelling of the narrative, by Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace: excitement that they’d found a potential star, dismay that she wasn’t living up to expectations, and then a sense of oracular satisfaction that they saw Palin was awful before most other people did. it’s a weirdly self-satisfied—and self-justifying—narrative.

And that attitude, more than anything else about this oddly overdue project, is what makes Game Change frustrating. Sarah Palin has everything to lose and precisely nothing to gain from depictions that point her, as Game Change does at various point, as an overzealous evangelical Christian; a dummy; defiant of authority; or even as a horror movie monster, raging against her advisers in a claustrophobic stairwell. And those of us who dislike Palin have everything to gain by recognizing that we really, truly won: Palin’s gone from the national stage. And her fiasco of a campaign has guaranteed that if Republicans nomination someone who is ludicrously underinformed, grievance-driven, and prone to wacky policy positions, they’ll do it through a highly-vetted process that likely exposes that person to the American electorate over an extended period of time. We should accept that, be done with the victory dance, and get down to examining the next generation of plausible Republican rising stars. The greatest damage we could do to Sarah Palin—and one of the better things we could do for ourselves—is to move on from her, totally and irrevocably.