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
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