GAME CHANGE by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
“Obama’s tacit admission was equally revealing. As a private man, his signal characteristics were supreme self-possession and self-reliance. He needed no one, was better and smarter, cooler and more composed, than anyone around him. But here he was conceding to Clinton that her help was crucial to the success of his presidency. For the first time, after all the bitterness and resentment that had passed between them as combatants, they had suddenly metamorphosed into different creatures with each other – human beings.”
Review by Jana L. Perskie (MAR 1, 2010)
I am rating this journalistic account of the 2008 US political election 4.5 stars out of 5. While I do not consider Game Change to be serious reporting at its best, I was unable to put the book down. That must count for something….perhaps my desire to read the prurient and live it vicariously.
I am a world class political junkie! I am also a secret National Enquirer reader – something I do while waiting in super market lines. So, reading Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime was like eating a scrumptious hot fudge nut sundae for me…in a literary fashion. Lots of yummy stuff, but frequently lacking in nutrition.
While authors John Heilemann’s and Mark Halperin’s reporting and writing styles are quite good, they do not begin to compare to the outstanding historical narrative found in Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Theodore White’s “Making of the President” series. White earned himself the Pulitzer in 1961 for his extraordinary journalistic interpretation of American politics during the 1960 presidential election with, The Making of the President 1960. He was able to portray, so vividly, the characters of the several candidates who were in the race for the presidency back then, as well as their campaign strategies and tactics – the good, the bad and the ugly. What struck me most when I first read White’s book in my teens, (yes, I became a political junkie at a very early age), and during subsequent readings, was the extraordinary skill with which the author wove fact and anecdote into an all encompassing account which so clearly explained the outcome and meaning of the election.
Mr. White was, to my knowledge, the first to chronicle presidential campaigns in such a way as to emphasize their drama, and impart meaning to what often seemed chaos. He wrote with logic and good sense in books filled with penetrating insights and much anecdotal description. White was the forerunner of such outstanding political journalists as David Halberstam and Bob Woodward, and now John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. However, there is little of the smarmy in Mr. White’s accounts. Perhaps it was the times. I mean, the 21st century cannot lay claim to being the first with eccentric, to say the least, exotic, and badly behaved candidates. Can you imagine what kind of lascivious revelations would have come from JFK’s campaign if written about today?
Taking my, (intellectual), preference for Mr White’s presidential reporting into consideration, I absolutely loved reading Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. The book is like a journalistic combo – reportage Г la Theodore White, (though not as tight, complete or informative), combined with a style of sensational and anecdotal writing and editing one expects to see in such tabloids as the National Enquirer. I would say that political documentation doesn’t always have to be serious, but some of the goings-on during this campaign are very serious and disturbing…although funny and ever so revealing. I read the book compulsively. The narrative is not trivial, but frequently mind boggling and very provocative.
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, both talented writers, researchers, and political addicts themselves, lucked-out this past campaign cycle, as it doesn’t get more dramatic than this. Character assassinations, low blow ad campaigns, (what is “truth” after all?), delusional candidates, and enormous egos abounded during the 2007-2008 presidential roadshow. Add to the mix, the first African American to run for president against the first woman to run for this office – and a Clinton to boot – alongside Sarah Palin, “the Alaskan barracuda,” and the aging John McCain, who was frequently not up to his game!
I followed this campaign the way some folks follow “American Idol,” and thought I knew a lot of the up front operations and behind scenes action. Wrong! There was much information, of the personal sort, that I was not aware of and would have really disbelieved if I had read it in a novel. An example – the serious flaws in Elizabeth Edwards’ personality even before her reveletion that she had cancer in 2006, at the end of the Kerry – Edwards campaign. This information, backed up by several on-the-record interviews by staff people from the Edwards campaign, was a real “Wowser,” as Mrs. Edwards used to be a real idol of mine. Talk about disappointment! And then there is the info about the McCain’s constant quarreling, and the fact that the Clinton campaign had to set up a secret 3 person war room to deal with Bill’s tendency to still “fool around.”
The only one to come out of the brawl almost squeaky clean is Barak Obama and his wife, Michelle. The authors’ decision to go for the tabloid approach, especially when writing about the candidates marriages, obviously makes for a more salient reading experience. But perhaps it is not so strange because “lurid” and “shocking” is where the money is at. I wonder if Woodward and Bernstein have found themselves in the predicament of writing “straight journalism,” or going for the sensationalism of exploring/exploiting the personal lives of their subjects. After all, we have had some extremely successful presidents with lousy marriages and, conversely, unsuccessful presidents with wonderful relationships with their mates. But now the candidates’ better halves play such an important role in the decision to vote for or against a ticket, especially when so many of our electorate are rapidly becoming Independents. I don’t think that the spouses ever had this much impact on a race before 2008.
I don’t know whether Obama was the front-runner with Heilemann and Halperin, even in bad times, because he was the most open and honest of the candidates, or because he was able to fend off negative attacks better, or maybe most reporters favored him more than his fellow campaigners, thus fewer media attacks and more media promotion. But he and wife Michelle seemed able to keep their heads even when the going got really tough. Also, unlike the Clinton and McCain-Palin campaigns, Obama’s was much more organized and on-message. There was little back-stabbing amongst staff members here. The Clintons’ managers, as well as Senator McCain’s and Governor Palin’s, were constantly at each other’s throats. On the other hand, the Obama advisors, campaign staff and volunteers had an open line of communication and what seemed to actually be a common purpose and comradery – rare in political campaigns.
One of my favorite moments took place just before a Republican debate, when John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani lined up at the urinals and started discussing about how much they disliked Mitt Romney – joking about the former Massachusetts governor. A sudden hush descended when they realized Romney was standing right behind them.
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin interviewed more than 200 people intimately involved in the race for the White House, receiving e-mails, memos, recordings and notes from willing interviewees to flesh out details. Many of the interviews were off record.
Apart from my vicarious, insider peek at all the outrageous and entertaining material from the 2008 electoral pageant which fills the book’s pages, I wonder why much of it was written. I mean, do I need to know that Senator McCain hangs-out wearing boxer shorts and a dress shirt? Scary image!!!
Game Change might provide a good read, but it is a sad commentary on our political process and those who can afford to make the race for president – both monetarily, emotionally and reputation-wise. How many exceptional potential presidential and congressional candidates are out there in the American heartland – those who would truly serve the people without worrying about automatically blocking the other party’s itinerary and worrying about the next election the day after the last one? Again, it is all about dollars and the reluctance of many to subject themselves and their families to the scrutiny and scandal mongering that accompanies running for office.
This book makes clear how many of those who would lead us are unworthy to do so. They place politics and personal power over the common good. No, politics is not a nice business, and many of those who represent us are not the nice and worthy people they pretend to be. Still, if you are a political junkie like me, this is a must read – it is really fun, if you don’t mind taking pleasure from others’ misfortune!
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 870 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper; 1st edition (January 11, 2010)|
|REVIEWER:||Jana L. Perksie|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
- Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (2010)
- Double Down: Game Change 2012 (November 2013)