The Sarah Palin/Neocon Alliance

Exclusive: “Game Change,” the HBO movie on John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, faults his Republican campaign for its slipshod vetting of the little-known Alaska governor, but leaves out the back story of big-time neocons from D.C. helping position Palin for her surprise rise and Palin manipulating everyone, writes Morgan Strong.

By Morgan Strong

HBO’s “Game Change” is a revealing film on the rise of Sarah Palin to national prominence. It is also an indictment of her ignorance and of the Republicans’ folly in nominating her as their vice presidential candidate in 2008.

The film points out that she, in all her vacuous charm, would have been only a 72-year-old man’s heartbeat away from assuming the presidency, a potential calamity that Republican strategists around Sen. John McCain initially justified on grounds of political expediency, getting a bump in the polls.

Sarah Palin speaking at CPAC on Feb. 11, 2012. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Though that much is true, the “Game Change” story does skip over some key facts. The movie would have us believe that Palin was chosen from a narrow field of prominent Republican women more or less by chance, because she was a fresh face and a stand-out personality. According to the film’s narrative, McCain’s campaign seeking a “game changer” made the choice with very little involvement from the GOP presidential nominee himself.

The film also presents Palin as mostly an unsuspecting political naif who is touring a county fair with her children when she receives McCain’s overture. It is a bolt out of the blue or in her interpretation God opening a door. However, there is a back story that was missed regarding how Palin and a number of influential neoconservatives helped create the opportunity for her.

Palin herself had sensed her potential for securing the Republican V.P. nomination immediately on winning Alaska’s 2006 gubernatorial election. She worked hard to draw the attention of Republican bigwigs and to gain their trust and support.

Despite her professed repugnance for the East Coast press establishment, she hired an East Coast P.R. firm to create a campaign depicting her as a brave little hockey-mom governor taking on huge evil conglomerates and their political lackeys in her fight to build a pipeline through the state to carry Alaska’s oil production.

Palin also got lucky when William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review and Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard, both influential conservative publications, sponsored a luxury cruise for committed conservatives to Juneau, the state capital of Alaska. Palin did not let this opportunity to woo much of the Right’s intelligentsia slip away.

Palin invited this influential group to the Governor’s mansion for a luncheon, where those present were struck by the lengthy and impassioned grace she delivered before the meal. Palin, La Passionate, was showing off her evangelical, devoutly Christian side. She also took a few of the more important pundits on helicopter rides around the state.

Word quickly spread about Palin’s charisma. A Republican blogger created a Web site for Palin’s campaign for the V.P. nomination. The Weekly Standard’s neocon editor, William Kristol, emerged as Palin’s top Inside-the-Beltway cheerleader.

Though none of her new-found followers seemed to have a clear idea of how qualified or unqualified Palin was for national office, that didn’t matter very much. What mattered was the Palin illusion, the down-to-earth image of a plucky everywoman who could “connect” with average Americans.

These conservative intellectuals were wowed by her “star quality.” She was described by one admiring columnist as a mix of Joan of Arc and Annie Oakley. The Annie Oakley part presumably derived from her supposed proficiency at shooting moose, which she bragged about often.

Though her actual skill as a hunter remains in dispute, Palin proved, in a political sense, very adept at shooting these Republican big fish in a barrel. Palin wooed and won over many, if not all. The hot buzz in Washington was Sarah Palin for V.P.

On conservative talk shows, Palin’s name also was frequently advanced as a smart choice for McCain’s running mate, a youthful and spirited counterweight to the aging and sometimes irascible McCain. As the groundswell grew, Palin made sure to grant time and access to Republican leaders who might influence McCain’s choice.

Yet, the HBO movie would have us believe that this virtually unknown governor of a lightly populated state, who had held office for less than two years, was somehow picked by near happenstance, through some wondrous mutuality of purpose, a fateful random shot in the dark, a political Cinderella who was discovered because “the glass slipper fit.”

“Game Change” is correct to note that no one seems to have taken the trouble to interview Palin at length about her base knowledge of the U.S. government and world affairs. To the shock of McCain’s staff, she didn’t know what the Fed is and believed the Queen of England has a substantive role in governing. She did not know why North and South Korea were two different countries. She thought Saddam Hussein had attacked the World Trade Center and that was the reason for invading Iraq.

But the problem wasn’t just the McCain campaign’s rushed vetting of newcomer Palin, as the film depicts. The failure went deeper, since Palin’s candidacy was pushed by some of the Republican Party’s top intellectuals who also didn’t bother to know or didn’t care that she was unqualified to assume the presidency.

Leaving out that background may have made for a better movie narrative, but it also had the effect of shielding Kristol and other influential neoconservatives who promoted her candidacy from any blame for the reckless blunder that Palin represented.

The movie also spares the leaders of the Republican Party, including McCain who is portrayed as a well-meaning, deeply patriotic figure devoid of petty ambition. He physically recoils at some of the ugly passions that Palin’s fiery rhetoric stokes against Barack Obama.

In one of the last scenes, McCain warns Palin to stay away from men like Rush Limbaugh who, the McCain character says, will ruin the Republican Party. Palin, however, did not take that piece of advice.

She recently defended Limbaugh against the intense criticism he received after calling a young woman, a Georgetown Law student who testified before Congress, a “slut” and “prostitute” who should get birth-control pills under her insurance plan only if she and her friends agree to post videos of their sex acts online for Limbaugh and his fans to watch.

Palin, who has often claimed to be the victim of sexist remarks herself, essentially defended Limbaugh as a victim of double-standards by liberals who simply want to deny the radio-talk-show star his First Amendment rights of free speech.

Given Palin’s intense popularity among the GOP’s Christian Right “base” and her burning political ambitions some leaders of the Republican establishment have come to view Palin as a threat to their own interests, which focus on winning elections and using government power to shape economic and foreign policy to their advantage. To them, Palin has become a supernova swallowing lesser Republican stars.

In that sense, “Game Change” can be viewed as a propaganda film on behalf of the Republican establishment, as represented by Palin’s campaign staff who contributed heavily to the movie’s script and have vouched for its general accuracy. The impact of the film indeed has served to dim Palin’s political star by reminding the public of her dangerous ignorance and her demagogic speaking skills.

But Palin surely won’t go quietly into the night. She is driven to stay in the limelight and apparently believes that despite the embarrassment of her vice presidential candidacy  she can and should be the President of the United States, what she indicates in the film is “God’s will.”

Palin proudly describes herself as “not a member of the permanent political establishment.” She insists that she is a Washington outsider and an antidote to the elitist culture inside the Washington Beltway.

Of course, she leaves out how much she owes her prominence to her clever cultivation of those sophisticates from that same elitist, inside-the-Beltway culture, the likes of William Kristol, who counts himself as one of the smart neocons who “discovered” the simple “Sarah from Alaska.”

At the end of “Game Change,” Palin is shown desperately trying to read her own concession speech on Election Night. But campaign strategist Steve Schmidt’s character forcefully tells her that the concession speech is always delivered by the head of the ticket as a way to convey the orderly and peaceful transition of government in a democracy an especially important moment given that the U.S. electorate had just chosen its first African-American president.

Palin, who had roused campaign crowds to shouts of violence against Obama with her casual accusations that he so disdained America that he would “pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country,” simply didn’t understand what Schmidt was telling her. She just wanted to put herself at center stage, again.

She didn’t grasp the valued principle that in a democracy, public gestures and rituals at such moments are crucial to show that the nation’s unity remains unshaken. But the blame for the dangerous Sarah Palin phenomenon reached far beyond her personal megalomania.

Morgan Strong was a former professor of Middle Eastern history, and American history. He served as an adviser to CBS News’ “60 Minutes” on the Middle East.

16 comments for “The Sarah Palin/Neocon Alliance

  1. F. G. Sanford
    March 28, 2012 at 07:40

    If you took a belt sander and removed the varnish from most republican politicians, you’d find Sarah Palin. But you’d have to use like, 50 grit, and change the belt more than once. There is nothing wrong with Ms. Palin’s intellect. She just wasn’t programmed with any finesse. The looney fundamentalist religion, the categorical thinking, the xenophobic rhetoric that disguises racism, and the disdain for science and intellect are a product of her family background. Sure, she quit lots of jobs, but every time, she moved up. WAY up. You can do that once or twice and write it off as “Peter Principle”, but she’s making more money than most of us could ever dream of. And, the killer instinct/political savvy that comes with an intact intellect is frighteningly effective. She nailed the disappointment most of us are having with George Bush’s third term in office during one of her speeches: “How’s that hopey changey stuff workin’ out for ya, huh”? You gotta give her credit. She sure got that shit right.

  2. Jym Allyn
    March 23, 2012 at 19:46

    There is no point in trying to be rational or truthful about the criticism of the Republican Party or their bigoted irrational anti-Obama criticisms.

    The Republican Party has become a religious cult and is now a threat to the US Constitution and the liberty of everyone else.

  3. Phyllis
    March 23, 2012 at 19:38

    There are plenty of smart, educated women that could have been vetted. Soon after Palin had been tapped to be McCain’s running mate she made comments that Hillary Clinton had placed cracks in the ceiling and she was now going to accomplish great things–essentially she was saying vote for me because I am a woman and will further down that road. No list of accomplishments because she had none–she was mayor of a small town (Wasilla) where they tried to recall her because she couldn’t handle the job–but that would have taken too long so they hired a city administrator who did the work and Sarah took the glory. She failed in her run for Lt. Governor, but was appointed to the Oil and Gas Commission in exchange for not opposing the Governor’s daughter in her run for the Senate. She still brags about her experience in energy–but she quit before one year was up on this Board, because she could not get along with the other two members. This limited experience gives her not much knowledge about energy! Then she ran for Governor and when elected, she refused to live in the Capitol City, but charged the State for all her families expenses in Wasilla. Of course, her cook and driver in Juneau were let go–she didn’t live there and the State paid more for her per diem/living expenses. She wanted to sell the State plane and have Todd’s personal plane paid for by the State. Of course, ethics complaints were filed against that plan. Most elected officials look for the most qualified people to be in their Administration–instead Sarah hired her personal friends from high school–those who were paid extra for providing babysitting services for the Palin children. She chose her employees on who could best promote her image–hairdressers, personal photographers, publicity agents, former newspaper employees, film makers, ghost writers. The person responsible for driving Ms. Palin around said that it was very seldom that she worked a full day while Governor, that this lady just loves to shop! shop! shop! In a small state with the entire population so little, Sarah’s lack of knowledge and qualifications was not that noticeable. She hired people who were paid to make her sound good. Hundreds of cities in our Country have a bigger population that the entire state of Alaska, and their Mayors do not have a staff of 20,000 (like Sarah claims she did). Many heads of companies have more than 20,000 employees. The fact is that had Sarah Palin been properly vetted, it would have been apparent that Palin had more Government money coming in per capita than any other state and that when she brags about balancing her budget, this was not difficult for Alaska. McCain wanted someone who was pretty and talked the good talk–brains or qualifications did not enter the picture. Poor Sarah keeps repeating her comment that Obama was never vetted like she was–sad thing is that she doesn’t realize that her vetting process was a lot worse. The Presidential debates pretty such served as an indicator of how a candidate thinks–and in her one debate she couldn’t even call Joe Biden by the correct last name and when the questions were tough, she refused to answer and instead gave one of her canned, well rehearsed answers. There may be many people who are unhappy with Obama’s performance, but any Alaskan will tell you that Americans dodged a bullet by not electing the greedy, self centered Palin.

  4. John Puma
    March 23, 2012 at 16:11

    Quote: “She also took a few of the more important pundits on helicopter rides around the state.”

    I’ve heard it called many things!

  5. Charlotte
    March 23, 2012 at 08:47

    As an Alaskan, this article seems very accurate. It took awhile for the citizens to realize that everything Palin does is aimed towards her own self promotion. She hires publicity agents and former newspaper writers and personal photographers to constantly keep the attention on her. One has to ask why someone who is holding no official public office continues to have a huge staff and her advisors are people who have experience in filming, public relations, marketing etc. Look at the reality series on Alaska–it was obvious that this lady was not the big time moose hunter that her image makers created–her dad had to carry her gun and her guide had to load the gun and help her shoot; she claims to be the big time commercial fisherman but it is her husband’s family who has the Native Alaskan fishing license and he is limited to a few weeks fishing per year. Sarah’s talent is that she is pretty and charming–but then you see the bullying she does at the Valdez airport or the Homer boat harbor when she is unaware that the cameras are present, and you see that this lady who brags about being a Christian does not treat ordinary people of our State very nice. Sarah Palin is all about Sarah Palin, down to the wigs, eyeglasses, red, white or blue power jackets, USA jewelry etc. One can only wonder about the greed of someone who insists that the GOP pay almost $200,000 for clothing her family, who claims that she came to the Lower 48 and they even had to buy her bras and panties. The Attorney General of Alaska at the time of her administration has gone on record saying that the unethical complaints that were filed against the Palins and found to be untrue were all handled by the State–and that the legal expenses that she felt were driving her toward bankruptcy were related to valid and/or personal legal costs of the family.

    • MelRoy
      March 23, 2012 at 17:48

      I wish you hadn’t gotten into the wardrobe. That is and always has been a canard. Palin has never known how to power-dress and never had the money for it until she started raking in the big bucks and her RNC dressers did a fabulous job with her capsule wardrobe, especially at short notice. If there were awards for such things than surely the RNC personall shoppers and image consultants should win the gold.

      She should have retained them to do her shopping and tailoring, damn the critics. She’s got the money and her PAC donors would not mind giving her money to give her professional polish (hair, makeup, wardrobe). I hope this doesn’t sound sexist, but women have do to so much more to look good than men (blame society), and their wardrobe choices are so much more varied that it takes a creative bent beyond “which color tie?”. I mean, I’m a professional woman an spent about $2,000 a season on a new capsule wardrobe and my husband gets away with a couple of $80 shirts!!

      Sarah Palin’s image problem is of her own making. Looking great does not affect your authenticity, and knowledge doesn’t either. Palin (IMO)seems to think displaying intelligence and knowledge and looking the part of a professional will damage her “down home” cred. I disagree. Her fans want her to be smart, savvy, aware. They want her to disprove her critics. Unfortunately (again IMO) she is too damn lazy to make the effort. Shame, because she has that “je ne sais quoi” that 99% of politicians would give their eye teeth for.

  6. Tyrone Washington
    March 22, 2012 at 22:34

    So far eleven advisors close to the McCain/Palin campaign have gone on the record concerning the veracity of the film Game Change. All but two–Steve Schimdt and Nicolle Wallace, have repudiated it as a travesty of the truth, particularly as it has depicted Governor Sarah Palin. The film is not only riddled with falsehoods, but it is careless in its falshoods in that some are easily refuted. To take some examples: Gov. Palin allegedly thought the Queen, not the Prime Minister ran the British Government. Yet a quick search would have found previous interviews where Gov. Palin discussed the career of Margaret Thatcher, notably interviews with Sean Hannity in September 2008 and with Charlie Rose in 2007. It is laughable that she was not aware of the role of the British PM. And while slandering the whole GOP voting base as primitive, it repeats the lie that at one of Palin’s rallies, someone shouted “kill him” at the mention of Obama’s name. This alleged happening was thoroughly investaged by the Secret Service and found to be false. The film also insinuates that Palin’s supporters are racist and has insinuations that Obama is a Muslim. Yet there is youtube footage of Palin being asked on a ropeline whether a Muslim could aspire to being president. She answered directly and unhestitatingly that ‘there is no religious test in the Constitution’. If the makers of Game Change had made a film about the rest of the book they might have been forced to point out that it was Hillary Clinton who first insinuated that Obama might be Muslim just as it was Clinton who first raised the issues of Obama’s association with unrepentent terrorist Professor Bill Ayers and the Reverend Wright. There is also video footage of a vivacious Sarah Palin visiting a restaurant and later an Irish pub on the very day that the film depicts her having a nervous breakdown and curling up into ‘fetal’ position. Laughable. On could go on listing lies after lie in this evil piece of cheap agit/prop. But what is truly evil–and I use the word evil advisedly—about these lies is the manner in which the producers attempt to carry those lies on the back of sometimes ‘sympathic’ glimpses of Governor Palin. The most complete demolition job on the film has been done by the website Big Hollywood. Much more than Sarah Palin, this film tells us a great deal more about Barrack Obama and his HBO/Hollywood allies and the world of counterfeit currency in which they live. And no one better than a bunch of forgers knows real coin when they see it.

    • marybelle
      March 22, 2012 at 23:26

      All of the people who defended Palin against Game Change do, or did, work for her. She pays/paid them–Stapleton, VanFlein, Recher, etc.

      • zed
        March 22, 2012 at 23:55

        The ones who no longer work for her have no motive. There were also press people there who said thatthisstuff never happened. Steve Schmidt got a job at MSNBC two weeks agoa
        . Plus there was an organized effort by his cronies to cover his butt after he made the decision to halt the campaign and go to DC after the financial collapse in 08. Politicize released memos last week. He is a person with a clear agenda. Anything he told the filmmakers is suspect.

        By the way, to the writer of this article…the neocons hate Palin. See Steve Schmidt, Karl Rove, and the Bushes statements for details.

        • MelRoy
          March 23, 2012 at 17:32

          Irrelevant. Jason Strecher worked faor her, then he didn’t, then he did again. None of them is otherwise employed but has been employed by Palin over the past few years and may be again. As long as the possibility of employment by Palin exists, they are unreliable as independent voices.

        March 24, 2012 at 22:27


        • Derv
          March 25, 2012 at 01:30

          Im with Mr.Freedom. She may not be completely qualified for national office,but she probably could do a better job than the last four presidents have done.She’s done more for Alaska than Oboma has for this nation. And I voted for McCain now with regret becouse he is one of the founders or a Terranic bill (s1867) which Oboma has already deployed 20,000 American troops in the us to police the american people. Not to mention the 97 members of congress that voted yes to that bill. Sarah is more like Ron Paul. She belives in the constitution and our rights, not in absolute power. And to the columnist, and Dea on March 22 at 11:41pm She didn’t tell to many lies about Oboma. Look at the S1867 bill also the so called homeland security. they are going around teaching police that most of Americans are domestice terrorist. What do you think they are, and that bill S1867 is that McCain is one of the founders of? You might want to look in the mirror on that ignorance thing.

    • Dea
      March 22, 2012 at 23:41

      Yes, it is clear that there is a back story and that Palin had some very strong connections prior her being selected by McCain. I also agree with the above post that it is laughable that Palin didn’t understand the structure of the British Government- in fact it’s downright scary. The thing is, she has shown so many examples of her ignorance and anti-intellectualism that go far beyond the scenes of this movie. For example, the Paul Revere comment was hilarious. The blood libel footage was extremely damaging and that was all Palin. Her constant lies about President Obama are so transparent. The beauty of Game Change was that it carried what we all saw for ourselves in the interviews, speeches, and written in Facebook posts to the backstage of the campaign. From verified reports, Julianne Moore skillfully delivered scenes of the Palin we all knew was there manipulating and lying her way toward across the country and taking the reputation of the Republican party down with her.

    • MelRoy
      March 23, 2012 at 18:06

      There were a couple of dozen people who verified the basic storylines of “Game Change”. The producers hired as consultants more than one person inside the campaign and neither of their names were Nicolle Wallace or Steve Scmidt. They were involved, yes, but not the only ones.

      I think there were some lessons to be learned, and you may deem Sarah Palin the scapegoat, but I rather refer to her as the “case study”. She was asked when she wasn’t prepared, even though she had been manoevering for the position. She simply was not ready.

      That’s not to say if she was asked in 2012 or 2016 that she would not be ready. That’s to say she was not in 2008. She had been governor of Alaska for a mere month when she started courting GOP presidential candidates and just over a year and a half in office when she decided to run for Vice President. In between, she got pregnant with a child she knew would be special needs and that her teenage daughter was pregnant. She was too ambitious for herself, especially at a time in her life when other people – her children, the residents of her state – really needed her to focus on things closer to home.

      Many of us have those moments when seemingly “God opens the door”. I had an opportunity to double my income and enhance my resume by moving to New York which I turned down to care for my disabled husband. I admit I thought to myself at the time that Sarah Palin would take the New York job anyway. Most of us would not. Most of us put family before personal ambition.

  7. Big Em
    March 22, 2012 at 22:32

    I have to admit to not having (very intentionally) any background knowledge about Ms Palin’s ascension to the VP candidacy — it just always struck me as SO jaw-droppingly reckless (right up there with the election of Ronald Reagan) that I didn’t even care to read any of the apologist and/or sanitized MSM versions. This article certainly sounds like a very plausible version, most likely closest to the truth. Although it’s hard to judge, I would suspect that Palin may have been the least politically knowledgeable (in spite of reading “all of them” magazines/newspapers) of ANY major party candidate in US history.

    Disclaimer: just for the record, I don’t believe that Dan Quayle orchestrated her candidacy to make his legacy look statesmanlike in comparison!

Comments are closed.