It’s anybody's guess whether Sarah Palin will run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. If she does, she’s likely to benefit from a highly favorable documentary that highlights the part of her career least known to most Americans.
The producer, Stephen K. Bannon, says the two-hour film intends “to put you in the vortex at the time” when Palin was governor of Alaska from 2006 to 2009 and, before that, head of the state’s oil and gas regulatory commission. And it does a pretty good job of capturing that era.
This was the period when Palin took on the oil companies which dominate the Alaskan economy, forced one of them to begin production at a long-dormant site, and awarded a lucrative pipeline contract to an outside firm. The film notes she once stared down an oil company executive who told her, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”
Palin was fearless in challenging the cozy network of Republican and Democratic politicians and energy lobbyists. She upset GOP governor Frank Murkowski when he sought a second term in 2006, then defeated Democrat Tony Knowles in the general election, despite an anti-Republican tide across the nation.
As governor, she was enormously popular, with a job approval rating above 80 percent. No politician in the country had higher approval or a better reputation for ethical conduct. The film insists her resignation as governor in 2009 was forced by a wave of phony ethics charges that made it impossible to govern effectively.
When John McCain picked her as his vice presidential running mate in 2008, Palin was unknown outside Alaska. And the media, while largely ignoring her record as governor, focused on her evangelical Christian faith, social issue conservatism, and inexperience in national politics. By the end of the campaign, the public’s impression of her had become badly bruised.
Bannon’s film, titled The Undefeated, tells a different story: Palin as a successful, reform-minded maverick. To the extent it is viewed by those who regard Palin critically, it could affect the outcome of the Republican race next year. Indeed, it might influence her decision to run or not.
Or it might have a minimal impact. That was the case with TheRight Stuff, the movie about American astronauts released just before the 1984 primaries. Former astronaut John Glenn was one of the film’s heroes, but whatever he gained politically from the film was slight.
There was a simple reason for this: the movie told a story about Glenn the public already knew. In contrast, the Palin film emphasizes a politically important but not widely known part of her political career.
The film is to be released nationally in July. But it will be screened later this month in the first four states in next year’s presidential contest, starting with a premier in Iowa and followed by showings in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Palin saw a rough cut of the film recently and was said by aides to have liked it. No surprise there. It leaves out several embarrassing topics, such as her poor performance in interviews with Katie Couric. The only negative moment is a montage of hateful comments about Palin that open the film.
Bannon is an admirer of Palin. “She’s a primal force when she gets going,” he says. But he made the film on his own. In fact, Palin mispronounced his name when she was asked about the film on Fox News several weeks ago.
But there was contact earlier between Bannon and the Palin camp. After last November’s election, Palin sent an aide to ask Bannon to create a handful of videos about her record in Alaska and the reason why she resigned the governorship. Bannon declined.
Instead, he raised a $1 million and made an independent, if laudatory, documentary. He didn’t interview Palin for the film, but used portions of the audio version of her autobiography, Going Rogue. Palin helped him get access to officials in Alaska who had worked with her and provided old Palin family home movies.
As a documentary, the film works well, except when three conservatives – Mark Levin, Tammy Bruce, and Andrew Breitbart – appear on screen to tout Palin. Her story is better told by seven Alaskans, dubbed “the magnificent seven,” who worked closely with her. Collectively, they make a strong case for Palin.