Sarah Palin Sneak Preview: The Agony of The Undefeated

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There was an advance screening last night of The Undefeated, the new film by Stephen K. Bannon that traces the rise of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin from her early years as mayor of Wasilla to John McCain's 2008 Vice-Presidential candidate to her new status as Tea Party darling.

The event was sparsely attended (I'd charitably put the audience at 50 people), owing perhaps to the fact that the e-mail announcement went out at 10 a.m. the morning of, and that the Gulf Pointe AMC, where the movie played, is in an area of town that's probably not home to a great many Republican supporters.

So what was the point? To grease the skids for Palin's 2012 Presidential run? To set the record straight on her tenure as governor of the 49th state? Or to give a big middle finger to all the haters and naysayers who seek to derail her political ambitions?

Hell, why not all three?

Is Palin running in 2012? With a national bus tour and The Undefeated coming out (in select cities) in a couple weeks, a presidential campaign would seem inevitable. The film itself provides no answers, ending simply with footage of the maybe candidate addressing a Wisconsin Tea Party rally last winter.

And while Palin's effect on politics has been galvanic, newcomer Michele Bachmann is gaining in Republican polls and seems to have seized the TP banner for herself. She's even gotten a jump on her competition by being the first to have a famous musician demand that she stop using his music as a campaign soundtrack (Palin could get a lot of press by playing "Rockin' in the Free World").

[Just to get it out of the way, I have no idea why this movie is called "The Undefeated" when Palin was beaten in the 2008 election. The intimation seems to be that she wasn't the one who lost, since McCain was toplining the ticket. Whatever.]

As far as the movie goes, it's about what you'd expect. For better or worse. The version we saw wasn't the finished cut, and so was grainy and had some audio issues, but Bannon attempts to make good on his pledge to put an end to the image of "Caribou Barbie." The bulk of The Undefeated concentrates on Palin's tenure as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska, where we're constantly reminded she bucked the corrupt old guard Republican establishment and played hard ball with the oil companies. (Her political awakening, we're told, began with the wreck of the Exxon Valdez.)

It's an interesting approach, I admit. The details of her (brief) governorship are probably unclear to many, and it may surprise them to realize her 80 percent-plus approval rating was well-earned. Palin enacted ethics reform, took on Big Oil and cut state spending (arguably at the expense of public works). Watching this, one can't help wonder why the McCain camp didn't concentrate more on this.

Oh right, it's because Matt Damon and Joy Behar said mean things about her.

I could see a lot of people who loathe Palin come away from The Undefeated grudgingly admitting she must have done some things right in Alaska (a state with a population less than that of Austin, sure, but still). That is, if they can wade through the nonstop imagery of martydom: lions feasting on innocent zebras, a knight felled by one of countless arrows (fired by the leftist media, no doubt), a woman's corpse getting dirt thrown in its face. No shit.

It's also difficult to reconcile her alleged toughness with the aura of victimhood that hangs over the section devoted to the 2008 campaign. Listening to Andrew Breitbart and other conservative figures complain about her "unfair" treatment by the media while footage of attack dogs unspools onscreen would be laughable if it wasn't so pathetic. Breitbart calls Republican males who failed to come to her defense "eunuchs." Make up your mind, people: Is she a tough-as-nails "Mama Grizzly" or is she a fragile female who needs men to stick up for her? Because that would appear to play right into the hands of those questioning her fitness for the Presidency.

Then again, when your most vociferous defender is Andrew Breitbart, you've got a whole different set of problems.

What's more puzzling, from someone seeking the GOP's nomination, is how often the wagging finger of blame points to Republican leadership like Senator Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner and even former President George W. Bush (obliquely blamed for allowing the economic crash that torpedoed the McCain-Palin campaign). It's in keeping with her image as an outsider, but unless she's planning on running as a third-party candidate, it's hard to see how alienating the GOP (and the oil companies) is going to help her cause.

Finally, just as you're growing weary of being hectored for not having balls, we see Palin's rebirth as champion of the Tea Party (you remember the Tea Party, they're the people who conveniently developed outrage over federal spending after the Republicans lost the election). Palin is apparently hoping to leverage her reformer image to use TP support as a viable contrast to "establishment" Republicans like Mitt Romney. However, in the interim between the film's wrap and now, Bachmann and Herman Cain have been stealing a lot of that thunder. There was almost a whiff of desperation in the publicist's plea with us last night to promote the film online and through social media. For while there's every possibility Palin is timing the announcement of her candidacy to coincide with The Undefeated hitting theaters July 15, it's hard to shake the feeling that ship may have already sailed.

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