Friday, March 16, 2012

'Game Change' Probes Rogue Intents

"Game Change" (2012, TV). Cast: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris, Peter MacNicol, Jamey Sheridan, Sarah Paulson, David Barry Gray, Austin Pendleton, Alex Hyde-White. Director: Jay Roach. Teleplay: Danny Strong. Book: Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.

Creating a reality that lives up to our hopes and expectations starts with the formation of beliefs and intents that honor those hopes and expectations with honesty and integrity. However, when we allow those reality-generating elements to go astray, we can set ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment. Such was apparently the case with the 2008 Republican presidential campaign, as portrayed in the new made-for-cable docudrama, "Game Change," now airing on HBO.

When Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (Ed Harris) ran for president in 2008, he faced an uphill battle against his opponent, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). In the runup to the election, the young, articulate, charismatic Obama held moderate to sizable leads over the aging McCain in almost every demographic category of likely voters, and the Arizona senator was staring at certain defeat unless he took drastic steps to reinvigorate his campaign. McCain and his strategists decided that choosing a suitable running mate -- one capable of shoring up his numbers in key demographic segments -- would be the best way to bolster his efforts.

While McCain favored the selection of an experienced peer politician, like Senator Joe Lieberman (I-C) (Austin Pendleton), most of his preferred VP choices were not seen as being able to ignite enthusiasm among sought-after voters. So, to compensate, McCain's advisors, such as chief strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson), encouraged their candidate to think outside the box and select a game-changing running mate, one who could effectively counter Obama's strengths. The campaign believed that a woman would make the best choice for the VP slot, and that decision ultimately led to the naming of a little-known governor from Alaska, Sarah Palin (R-AK) (Julianne Moore), as the other half of the Republican ticket.

The McCain campaign had high hopes for Palin. Her ability to whip up crowds, as in her acceptance speech at the GOP national convention, led the candidate and his advisors to believe that they were back in the race. However, those hopes were quickly dashed when it became apparent that the inexperienced Palin was in way over her head. Her lack of preparation for press interviews, for example, created PR nightmares. What's more, her unwillingness to cooperate with campaign staffers, her frequent withdrawals into isolation, and her preoccupation with comparatively trivial issues, such as her post-nomination approval rating with Alaskan constituents, left the candidate and his handlers with a full plate of challenges to solve on an almost daily basis. One staffer, Nicole Wallace (Sarah Paulson), even reached a level of frustration where she refused to work with Palin.

As the campaign wore on, McCain and company did their level best to hold things together. They took such drastic steps as teaching Palin how to memorize responses to likely questions, rather than allowing her to come up with answers on her own. However, these measures ultimately did more to bolster enthusiasm among Palin's most ardent followers rather than aid McCain's efforts. But, despite Palin's popularity among her core constituency, the hoped-for widespread appeal among voters at large never developed. Even many Republicans failed to rally around the VP candidate, with some seeing her as a liability to the ticket. And, in the end, McCain lost the election, the campaign's strategy having backfired.

From a conscious creation perspective, this result shouldn't have come as any surprise. The intent behind Palin's selection, as portrayed in the film, was based almost entirely on doing whatever it took to win the election, not necessarily selecting the candidate best qualified for the job. As objectives failed to pan out, the campaign engaged in progressively more drastic measures to palatably package Palin for the voting public, with results that went awry from what was sought. It was almost as if the campaign was trying to wedge the proverbial square peg into a round hole; McCain and company would have fared far better working with a round peg, but that's not what they created in the first place. Such are the results that arise when practicing un-conscious creation, where conscious creation is employed to achieve a particular outcome without regard for the consequences.

It's interesting to note that, in depicting the foregoing, the film quite naturally (and successfully) portrays Palin as more than a one-dimensional figure, accurately reflecting our inherent multidimensional nature as conscious creators. Given how much the former VP candidate has been lampooned on TV shows like Saturday Night Live (several clips of which are featured in the picture), it would have been easy to cast Palin as a cartoonish, one-note character. However, "Game Change" resists that temptation, showing the protagonist as someone who is simultaneously ambitious yet out of her league, confident yet vulnerable, and a committed politician who also happens to be a devoted wife and mother. This balanced portrayal not only avoids an easy stereotype, but it also gives the film a level of credibility, both in terms of the believability of its narrative and its underlying metaphysics.

This is important, given some of the criticism that has been leveled against this picture. Some have called "Game Change" nothing more than Democratic party propaganda in light of its emphasis on Palin's and the McCain campaign's shortcomings, not to mention the fact that the film's teleplay focused on only one portion of the book on which the picture was based. While one could argue that these contentions have some merit, it's also significant to note that Nicole Wallace, the McCain campaign staffer who gave up on working with Palin, said in press reports that the picture was so uncannily on target that it made her squirm while watching it.

"Game Change" is a knock-out from start to finish -- smartly written, fair in its recitation of events, dramatic and funny, all at the same time. It also features terrific performances by Harrelson, Harris, Paulson and, especially, Moore, whose portrayal has got Emmy written all over it. My only criticism is that this picture isn't playing in theaters (it's that good). HBO subscribers will be able to catch broadcasts of the movie throughout the month; others, meanwhile, will have to wait for the eventual DVD release.

Cliched though it may be, it always pays to be true to oneself, especially when invoking the powers of conscious creation. To do otherwise yields unpredictable, and often unsatisfactory, results, as "Game Change" so clearly illustrates. Going rogue may appear to have a certain appeal, though, where intents and consequences are concerned, that allure may merit thorough scrutiny.

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