Then and Now or Now and Then

9 Mar


I grew up reading Theodore White’s groundbreaking (at the time) The Making of The President series. So following the devolution of presidential campaign coverage has been a bittersweet amusement these past fifty years. Though it must be said that my serious interest ended with Tim Cruise’s Boys on The Bus and Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.I suspect much of that lapse has to do with the takeover of electioneering by advertising and marketing savants and also the mechanization of political campaigns— and not least, the generally unappealing and lackluster candidates.

Following the 2008 campaign mainstream journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin offered Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (Harper) as the authoritative first draft of that historic episode which most certainly had the most interesting dramatis personae in at least a generation.None more enthralling than the hitherto unknown governor from the great state of Alaska, Sara Palin.

Now comes HBO’s Game Change (directed by Jay Roach, produced by Tom Hanks, written by Danny Strong)

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The obvious focus of this film is the selection of Palin as John McCain’s running mate and her subsequent ordination as a not-to-be-ignored conservative messiah (which as the film ends is strongly hinted at).
The film’s writer Danny Strong explains [in the Palin chapters] “what was happening behind the scenes was 10 times more amazing than what was happening in the public eye. I was amazed by how beautifully it was going to beat out as a movie.”

Of course, all the principles have decried the film as fiction (McCain hasn’t seen it—but as befits a man of his intellect, he has relied on what he has been told). McCain’s wife has said that her hubby is cuter than Ed Harris who portrays McCain. Former Bushist water carrier David Frum has an interesting take on Palin (whether or not it is represented in the film

…Palin’s humiliation in 2008 at the hands of journalists, campaign consultants, and comedians deformed her character, and the person who emerged from that wounding experience has in turn done her part to degrade American politics over four long years of economic hardship.

Quite aside from its considerable value as entertainment, Game Change provides a perfect opportunity to begin counting the political and cultural costs of Sarah Palin’s abrupt rise and painful fall.

As long as you are not depending on this film or Margin Call or Too Big To Fail and the like to provide the factual basis for your thoughts on the stature of the nation, Game Change represents some moments of dramatic interest as well as a sense of the array political values in play today (though West Wing seemed to be the best exemplar political drama).By the waY, it does not hurt Game Changes’s plausibility that Julliane Moore uncannily resembles Sarah Palin.

As long as I am expiating on historical fact and fiction, Thomas Mallon who wrote Henry and Clara (one of my favorite of his books about the couple sitting next to Abraham Lincoln at the Ford Theater on that fateful night) and six or seven novels has a new opus,Watergate (Pantheon). As everyone remembers and is now being reminded, the grandaddy of all the “gates” is coming on its 40th anniversary. I don’t why we should care about that but it is the case that once again Mallon( as in Dewey vs Truman ,Fellow Travelers and Bandbox) has fashioned an entertaining Shakespearean narrative out of the 1972 Republican electoral misdeeds and spiced it up with some interesting improbabilities. Watergate has been widely (and favorably) reviewed, so take your choice for more detailed commentary.

In a rare moment of coincidence, I find that Beltway bloviator George Will expresses an opinion that I have long held:

Most Americans have no living memory of Watergate, and Mallon’s novel, which merits many readers, will be for many of them a primer, perhaps whetting their curiosity about this ugly discontinuity in the nation’s governance. Novels can be fine supplements to histories.

Dumas Malone’s six-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson and Robert V. Remini’s several books on Andrew Jackson are splendid, but Max Byrd’s historical novels about the third and seventh presidents bring both men alive in ways that only a literary imagination can. One measure of Lincoln’s greatness is that not even a curdled cynic like Gore Vidal could resist the spell in his novel “Lincoln.” To understand Huey Long, read T. Harry Williams’ masterful biography, but then get inside the scoundrel’s skin by reading Robert Penn Warren’s portrait of Long as Willie Stark in the novel “All the King’s Men.”

Currently reading The Snopes by William Faulkner( Modern Library)

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