'A Dark Side to the American Populace' or Where Have You Gone, John McCain?
Ed Harris as John McCain: recreating the last moment the GOP tried to tamp down the ‘dark side of the American populace.’
Last night, P and I watched “Game Change,” Jay Roach's 2012 HBO movie on the unlikely rise of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign, with Julianne Moore as Palin, Ed Harris as John McCain and Woody Harrelson excellent as McCain's campaign manager Steve Schmidt. Sarah Paulson, recently so good in “Carol,” is also excellent as a senior advisor, Nicolle Wallace, initially proud that a woman will be the GOP's VP choice, then concerned, then horrified.
Each revelation of how much Palin doesn't know is stunning: why North and South Korea are two countries; which countries made up the Axis powers during WWII; the fact that the Queen isn't the head of the British government. If the press had been allowed to vet Palin the way the McCain campaign didn‘t—if there had been more than the Charlie Rose and Katie Couric interviews—she would’ve been torn to shreds. Deservedly.
But what truly stands out is a line McCain says near the end. It's October, things are going poorly, and his team, particularly Rick Davis (Peter MacNichol), urges McCain to use the two big guns left in the arsenal:
- Rev. Wright
- Bill Ayers
McCain refuses on the first, acquiesces on the second. His refusal on the first is the result, in part, of the push-polling Karl Rove and the Bush campaign did to him in the 2000 South Carolina primary, implying that he had a black child out of wedlock rather than an adopted daughter from Bangladesh. But Davis keeps pushing. The Bush campaign lied, he says, but Rev. Wright said what he said. To which McCain responds:
That may be true. But there's a dark side to the American populace. Some people win elections by tapping into it. I'm not one of those people.
Later, we get that moment at a campaign rally when a woman calls Obama “an Arab,” and McCain takes the microphone back, and reminds her, and the rest of the crowd, that Obama is “a decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have some disagreements with on fundamental issues.” That's also startling. It may be the last moment anyone in the GOP tried to tamp down that type of ignorance and hatred. Ever since, and from multiple sources—including Palin, Limbaugh, all of right-wing radio, all of FOX News, and now the current GOP candidates, led, of course, by Donald Trump—they‘ve not only been tapping into the dark side of the American populace; they’ve been poking it and prodding it. They've smiled as they enraged it.