Thursday, February 11, 2010

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime

Game Change is an “inside baseball” look at the 2008 presidential election. If what the book reveals about the politicians running this country does not depress you (or scare you to death), you are more an optimist than I will ever be. No one is exactly covered in glory by Game Change – not even the election’s eventual winner, although President Obama is treated rather kindly by the authors compared to how they handle the other contenders from both parties.

At the risk of sounding biased myself, I want to mention my misgivings about the book, misgivings that grew stronger as I read the book. I do not begrudge the authors their preference for the left side of the political spectrum but I did expect them, in fairness, to be as tough on the “Obamans” as they were on the “McCaniacs,” the Clintons and the Edwards family. By choosing what incidents to reveal about each candidate and, more importantly, what personality traits of theirs to stress, the authors subtly built their case that the election was won by the best person running. That may very well prove to be the case but this approach does give the book an uneven feel.

Heilemann and Halperin are far less subtle when contrasting the conservative media to the liberal media, however, and this is where they expose their bias to the degree that I began to question the “truth” in the rest of the book. For instance, there is a reference on page 334 to the “flying monkeys of conservative talk radio” and another on page 375 to the “right-wing freak show” of cable news shows. Left wing commentators, on the other hand, are rarely mentioned other than to call Chris Matthews a “cable talking head.” I point this out only because this kind of thing causes me, as a reader, to wonder what other, more subtle, tricks I may be missing when judging the content of the book.

I do believe that what the authors reveal about each of the candidates and their spouses is substantially true – perhaps because so many of the revelations reinforce what I suspected at the time about John and Elizabeth Edwards, Sarah Palin, John McCain, the Clintons and a few of the other bit players. President Obama was more of a clean slate to me in 2008 than he is today and that leads me to believe that he is treated very gently in Game Change.

Heilemann and Halperin have written a must-read book for political junkies, one that is surprisingly easy to read and absorb. Although much of what is discussed will be old news to those who followed the 2008 election closely, even the most astute follower of American politics will be surprised and saddened by some of what the authors present here. This is a depressing book, not one to give much hope that America is in good hands today, nor that she has been in good hands for the past two decades. Perhaps that is the real value offered by Game Change – exposing a state primary system that allows a handful of voters to determine the candidates from which the rest of the country will be allowed to choose. We have to do better than this.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. I haven't read the book yet but I heard an interview of the authors on NPR and they said that they tried very hard to be fair to all the candidates but that the Obamas were simply decent people who didn't air their dirty laundry in public. It's always good to be aware of the biases of those we read or listen to, thanks for the review.

  2. I found this book to be pretty depressing, like you said, and disgusting too. The sleaziness of the campaign staffs (and candidates), their manipulations, etc. made me feel like I needed to take a shower after reading.

    Right off the bat, it was apparent that the powers-that-be in the Democratic party did not care who they ran or how well-qualified that person was, they just wanted someone who could win.

    It was never about who would be best for America, but about who could raise the most money, speak the best, etc.


  3. Lee, the authors did gloss over a lot of the controversy surrounding Obama during the election period - his past associations, his drug use, etc. but mainly his complete lack of experience. They quoted several who were shocked that a man with so little experience was on the verge of the presidency but they never seemed to take those fears very seriously or treat them as legitimate concerns.

    Their digs at conservative media outlets is what tipped me to the point of being somewhat a doubter as to their intentions.

  4. JoAnn, it doesn't seem to me that either party cares much about putting the best candidate up anymore ("best" as in best for the country). It's all about power and getting elected - otherwise, Obama, McCain, Biden and Palin would have never made it to the "finals." None of the four, IMO, has any business in the White House.

  5. I wish I had been taking notes when I was reading this book last night, but one phrase grabbed me, when the authors said that the news media had not done its job in the election. And this was prior to the part about McCain. They also used some very derogatory adjectives when writing about Obama.

    What struck me is that so much of the book was about the Democratic "contest" and so little about the Republicans. It is like they were tacked on as an annoying afterthought......

    The parts about Wright seemed to be written as if "oh, no, look what happened to Obama" rather than "oh no, look what Obama did".

  6. JoAnn, I was disappointed that the authors did not dig deeper into the Wright question. All they did was repeat the general claims and concerns we have already heard; they offered very little new information and never even approached the question of what Obama knew about Wright's craziness, when he knew it, or why he stayed in the church. They did pretty much say that he almost never attended services anymore as if that would explain away his whole 20 years of church membership.

    Like you, I got the impression that this started out as a book about Obama and his campaign and that the Republican primaries were tacked on as an attempt to change the nature of the book into something bigger that would appeal to more readers.

    I remember comments about the media not doing its job but I'm under the impression that the authors were mostly repeating the angry comments of the Clintons and McCain. It was not always easy to tell when the authors were speaking with their own voices because of the lack of quotation marks when they were attributing comments to others.

  7. Sam, you said "It was not always easy to tell when the authors were speaking with their own voices because of the lack of quotation marks when they were attributing comments to others. "

    I agree. I am now looking at page 411, where it says --->>> But what Biden quickly discovered was that Obama's policies were awfully thin, not terribly specific, more rhetoric than substance.

    No quotes there, although later in this same paragraph there are. I think the authors were treading a slippery slope.

    The stuff about Palin makes me feel sick. She might be fun to have lunch with, but as a leader of our country? Those tea baggers need their heads examined.

    As my husband said, Sarah Palin being nominated in 2012 is Obama's guarantee of a second term.

  8. I'm not quite sure what the authors were trying to accomplish with the quotes-no quotes style, JoAnn. Perhaps no quotes is an admission that they were told someone said something - but it seems shaky.

    As for Palin, nominating her would be akin to political suicide. She's a lightweight, IMO, by every stretch of the imagination. If she's that unstable, she would be more dangerous than the Chicago mob in the White House right now...again, IMO.

  9. Sam, I almost fell out of my car today when I saw a car with a PALIN-HUCKABEE 2012 bumper sticker.

    And I totally agree with your assessment of Palin.

    I am quite tolerant of people's religious beliefs, but when she said that God meant for her to be the candidate, I exploded.

  10. That ticket would be close to my worst nightmare, JoAnn. The Republican Party needs a new face - and a return to its roots. Those two are not the answer.