Palin’s mental health, not ignorance, the true ‘Game Change’ lightning rod

Considering that it doesn’t hit the air until March 10, “Game Change” is getting a level of advance publicity that might be as high as it comes for an HBO movie, which is saying something. With Sarah Palin is its centerpiece, that was predictable, as is the fact that Palin defenders are shooting down the movie sight unseen.

Having seen “Game Change,” which adapts a 50-page section from a 450-page book into a 120-minute movie, I can promise that the controversy isn’t likely to end once the movie goes public, though I think the most incendiary aspect of it hasn’t been the focal point of many advance stories.


The issue is not Palin’s intellectual qualifications to be a heartbeat from the presidency. The degree of her ignorance might be debatable — did she really think that Queen Elizabeth runs British government, did she really not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II — but it’s not as if the counter-argument is that she were some sort of stealth “Jeopardy” champion. And frankly, intellectual qualifications mattered little to a good chunk of the electorate then and seem to matter even less now.

However, the real bombshell in the book, and in turn the movie, is its speculation that Palin revealed herself to be mentally unstable. “Game Change” makes a pretty strong case for it, but among the dozens of sources interviewed by authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, screenwriter Danny Strong and director Jay Roach, none, as far as I know, was a mental health expert with primary access to Palin.

That Palin might be “on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown,” as Woody Harrelson’s Steve Schmidt says in the trailer above, is thusly expressed as a fear based on layman observations, not professional analysis. However reasonable that fear might be, the door is left open for Palin supporters to argue that the film is manipulating its audience with cheap shots. (Of course, I suppose that would happen even if a team of psychiatrists and psychologists offered the same conclusion.)

“Game Change” holds off from making any emphatic conclusions, instead letting the anecdotes speak for themselves. Still, that’s not likely to stop Palin detractors who haven’t read the book from being even more horrified by the idea of her in the Oval Office, nor stop Team Palin from thinking that “Game Change” is a bridge to nowhere in reality.

In other words, as far as ending the controversy surrounding Sarah Palin, a “Game Change” this isn’t, no matter how reliable it is.

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