Bitchin' Channels

A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: The night I spent with Sarah Palin

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Julianne Moore plays Sarah Palin in the HBO movie Game Change.  Photo / Supplied
Julianne Moore plays Sarah Palin in the HBO movie Game Change. Photo / Supplied

It was a one night thing you understand, it meant nothing to both of us. Well, more so for her, as I'm pretty sure she wasn't exactly aware of my existence.

It was 2008, at the Republican Convention in St Paul, Minnesota. It's one of the so called Twin Cities along with Minneapolis which is only a few kilometres away, kind of like Napier and Hastings on a grand scale.

It's Fargo country, people say things like "Don'cha know?" The state motto, which features on car numberplates, is 'Minnesota Nice' and the people really are, very, very nice.

It was yet another knock to the myth that kiwi's are the 'nicest people in the world'. We're not, far from it.

I was there making an episode of Eating Media Lunch and the Republicans had kindly agreed to our request to attend their big night.

The Democrats had turned us down, possibly indicating a better class of research on their behalf, but I'm glad we got to go to St Paul.

The Republicans are actually more fun, and we got see Sarah Palin, in her first big gig, a bit like seeing the Sex Pistols at the Free Trades Hall, but with crapper music.

The indoor stadium is one of those gigantic multi-layered affairs where ice hockey or Bruce Springsteen might be found, like a double size Vector Arena and it was packed to the gunnels with right wingers from every nook and red-necked cranny of the USA.

We felt a kind of kinship with the guys from American Samoa, and Guam, but it was the folks from Texas who entertained most. One of their number, a politician in the State government was particularly forthcoming and assured us he wasn't joking when he told us that he always "packed heat" while making speeches in the State Legislature.

In fact he had a back-up gun on his leg, a 38, snub-nose, he always carried a 45 on his belt. (Although not tonight, security was intense here.)

I was recently reminded of this alien concept, of "packing heat", while watching an episode of Big Love. (The final series of which I preserved with for a few episodes before I realised that like some of the younger members of the family I too had lost the faith.)

And get this, he thought we were weird when I told him that no one in New Zealand wandered around with guns, apart from farmers, and Tuhoe activists.

It seemed churlish to bring up the 30,000 gun deaths that occur there every year, so I did. I sounded churlish. The Texan had heard it all before and even had a joke ready: "Of course we need guns, you never know when some nut is going to come up to you and say something like, 'You're fired'. You gotta be ready."

The excitement that Palin created was something that I hadn't been prepared for. I'd already written her off as a half-witted mums-bum, but boy she delivered that night in Minnesota.

Like Obama, she is a master of the auto-cue and her speech was delivered with pitch-perfect pacing and confidence and it generated a response that nearly took the roof off.

I've never heard such genuine adoration, such volume. It was probably mixed with a sense of relief that the attendees felt, a feeling that with Sarah they might actually have a chance to pull it off after all.

This was peak Palin, after that night suspicions that she might be a bit brainless became hard evidence as she was subjected to the harsh light of the real world, to the media, to people who would ask if she subscribed to magazines.

But it was quite a night, quite a moment in time and I for one will be tuning in to watch Game Change, 8.30pm tonight on Soho. It's the HBO movie written by an insider in the McCain camp about the political collision that resulted in the car-crash election campaign that ultimately propelled Obama to power.

Julianne Moore does a good Palin (although Tina Fey set the bar very high) by the look of the trailer and Ed Harris is uncanny as McCain.

Reviews are good. They use some actual footage from the night so keep an eye out for me. I was wearing a T-shirt that commemorated the coronation of (the now late) King of Tonga.

One man, who I caught staring at it, asked me if it was Saddam.

Watch the trailer for Game Change:


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