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Game Change’ a wake-up call for voters

John Sandberg | Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Over spring break I watched “Game Change,” HBO’s recently aired political drama based on the 2008 presidential campaign and the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate. It essentially paints Palin as an uninformed and poorly versed politician, to say the least. Picking her as McCain’s running mate was done in an attempt at making a bold move to energize the party and had little to do with her qualifications for the job. The movie even goes so far as to strongly question the former Alaska governor’s mental stability at various points during the campaign (apparently a nutritional plan grounded on Diet Dr. Pepper and thousands of 3×5 information cards do this to a person).

Steve Schmidt, the senior campaign strategist for McCain and a prominent character in the film, has described watching the film as being like an out of body experience. Nicole Wallace, another former senior adviser, said the scenes depicted in the movie were “true enough” to make her “squirm.” As for McCain and Palin, both have said that they have no intentions of watching “Game Change” and claim it is based off of false reports.

Personally, I’m tempted to believe that the reality of the campaign lied somewhere in between the two sides’ accounts. On the one hand, I don’t see a whole lot of incentive for former McCain-Palin aides to tell embellished tales about their former bosses, making everyone look bad by doing so. With this in mind, one might believe that the events of the film are accurate.

Then again, I also find it hard to believe that an elected official would be so poorly-vetted that her advisors overlooked the fact that she was lacking an elementary understanding of U.S. history, among other things. So I’d guess that the filmmakers took some liberties in exaggerating Palin’s unpreparedness for the situation.

Altogether the film was entertaining. Yet once it was over I felt more embarrassed than anything. No, I couldn’t vote in the 2008 election, but as an American citizen it made me think: Is that what presidential elections have come to? Obviously the McCain-Palin ticket ultimately lost the election, but this conversation remains relevant.

Americans allowed a seemingly ill-equipped individual to come relatively close to being vice president. It’s crazy to think that we came that close to putting such an overwhelmed person in the second highest position in the executive branch and a heartbeat away from taking over the presidency. Based off the movie’s account, she never should have come that close in the first place.

Again, one is perfectly entitled to accept or reject parts of the movie that seem embellished or outright false. But if the events acted out in the film are even half true, it all amounted to an alarming wake-up call for me as a voter. While the office of the vice presidency is often joked about for its relatively small powers within the greater Washington political landscape, the implications of the office cannot be taken lightly. If “Game Change” showed us anything, it’s that a presidential candidate’s choice for VP should be subjected to more than just a political analysis and instead looked at as someone who could (or could not) lead the country if called upon.

With the potential GOP vice presidential candidate still out there waiting to be selected, this wake-up call comes at a particularly fitting time. The intermittent chatter on cable news about who the GOP candidate’s running mate will be is interesting largely because many believe that the VP will be a more exciting individual than the presidential candidate himself. Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Chris Christie both make for interesting options, especially since so many Republicans were clamoring for them to enter the race for the White House. Whether you align with them ideologically or not, at least each seems to be well-versed in policy issues and a capable leader if called upon.

So while the VP selection for the Republican candidate this fall may not be the number one issue at hand, it is certainly an important one. “Game Change” effectively points this out to all voters, whether they loved the film or hated it. Perhaps for many the film wasn’t as thought provoking as it was for me. In any case, consider me awake now to the potential powers of the vice presidency and the implications that the position would have for the country in a moment of great need.

John Sandberg is a sophomore political science major from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at jsandbe1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.