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HBO's Game Change Treats Palin Like a Punching Bag

The film is on shaky ground in ways other than its portrayal of Palin’s intelligence, however. HBO is a notably liberal outlet, and there is a bizarre subtext woven throughout in which Palin is seen as the unfortunate impediment to a nationwide agreement that Barack Obama in particular and liberalism in general are really nifty things. A Republican speechwriter (Sarah Paulson) who comes to despise Palin seems to be a fan of Hillary Clinton. John McCain (Ed Harris) is shown trying to rustle up support by reluctantly giving into his demons and going negative (as if Obama didn’t spend massively on attack ads!) and then withdrawing in revulsion as the people seem on the verge of forming a lynch mob. Harris’s McCain is portrayed as a basically decent guy who is willing to cut an ethical corner or two to win, but finally more or less concedes that Obama’s victory is fine.

If HBO were being completely honest, instead of giving a pass to Obama, Biden, and Hillary Clinton (none of whom is portrayed by actors in the film, though they are occasionally seen in news footage) and dramatizing every sordid anecdote about Palin, it would make a miniseries that tells the whole story of Game Change, the book by reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann that covered the 2008 campaign, not just Palin’s foibles (which take up only a few pages). In the book, Bill Clinton tells Ted Kennedy, “The only reason you’re endorsing him is because he’s black, let’s just be clear.” Obama is heard saying, “Why the f--- am I going to Indiana?” and (in 2004) “There’s not much of difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage.” One of Hillary Clinton’s most senior advisers thinks, after one near-breakdown, “This woman shouldn’t be president.” Harry Reid says Obama has “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Hillary is shown saying of Obama, “What an a--hole. Am I the only one who sees the arrogance?” She also says, of the Obama-McCain matchup, “I hate the choice that the country’s faced with. I think it is a terrible choice for our nation.” Later she is seen mentioning to aides that she’d heard Obama’s mother was a communist.

In the film, angry members of crowds at McCain rallies are heard yelling, “He’s a socialist!” and we are meant to think that irrational anger on the part of bitter (and probably racist) Republicans has been Obama’s principal problem ever since. But once you start down the road of mistaking name-calling and gossip for news, you can keep going indefinitely.