About a book

GAME CHANGE: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime

I just blew the better part of the morning finishing this book. I could not step away. (It kept me reading last night until 3:00 am.) When it was published a few months ago, it was the talk of cable and the obsession of the White House press corps. Columns were written. Everyone weighed in, whether they’d been there or not. The authors talked to every talker. Their book sold a gajillion copies and probably made them rich.

It was criticized: said to be gossip, hearsay, suspicious, unfair. It was not sourced, nothing was attributed, how could anyone know if it was true? But it was a great read everyone said. A real barn burner. Even Eric Alterman, a media critic and a voice I trust entirely, said so..

Back in the 60’s, when the late Theodore White wrote “The Making of the President’ following the  1960 campaign, he invented a genre. He did it again after 1964, 1968 and finally after 1972. This book is not only titled “Game Change’, it is itself a game changer. I’ve not read anything quite like it before, and in spite of the oddity of the absent sourcing etc., I found myself believing every single word. And I want these guys to keep writing the roundup after 2012, 2016 and 2020, when Levi Johnson is expected to be elected.

The authors, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, were unflinching in their treatment of all the candidates. What surprised me was how well Obama fared in the telling of the tale of the campaign trail. His remarkable political savvy and relentlessness were present, as was his often criticized aloofness. It was in the telling of the days of the financial meltdown in October of 2008 that we got to see the qualities necessary to a president.

While McCain was stumbling and revealing – to the horror of his staff – his utter cluelessness about the economy and how it works, Obama was talking to Paulson and Bernanke and even Bush almost every day. He got it. When he tried to reach McCain by phone to discuss coordinating their message with the administration and the Treasury because of the danger of the situation, McCain wouldn’t call back for 24 hours. He didn’t get it. Obama did. Even Paulson couldn’t reach McCain by phone and had to wait sometimes for 36 hours to have his calls returned.

In the grip of the shared terror that the economy might actually immolate, Bush convened a meeting of his top financial advisors along with Obama, McCain and their financial people. Everyone engaged (Obama to the point that Paulson later said he was ‘astonished by Obama’s level of engagement’ and found himself turning to the candidate as if he were already president) – everyone that is except McCain, who remained silent. Finally, toward the end of the meeting, Bush asked McCain if he had anything to add. He said something about House Republicans and what they wanted to do. Bush ‘was dumbfounded’ and ended the meeting.

Both authors are cable regulars and I had always found Halperin to be  smug. He was the founding editor of a once essential online first-read of the day among political junkies – ABC News’ The Note (authorship of which I once wrongly attributed to Jake Tapper of ABC News eliciting an actual response(!) from him denying any connection with it. I apologized for my careless beginner’s mistake.)

But now I’ve decided that anyone who can produce a book this good will be allowed some smugness.

The best part of reading Game Change is that it reminded me our leaders are not saints. They are clawing, ambitious and often ruthless and that that’s the way people emerge as leaders. It’s always been the way although we  like to pretend it’s otherwise.

Read it.

15 responses to “About a book

  1. Inspiring review. I wanna read that book!
    And faith in Obama is restored. Imagine McCain/Palin now.. 18 months in.. I actually think history has a few extremely pivotal points – and this was one avoided…

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    • May I say . . . duh! Wait’ll you read it. Can;’t wait to hear your thoughts.

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      • The last part was even faster.. and there’s something very disturbing when something that serious happens – and some people don’t understand when to stop the games. That is – they might not comprehend the limits of the games, or might not even have a concept of what is games and what is real.
        But,
        nothing new really. Just disturbing.

        But something other struck me – is Hillary really doing a big sacrifice here? Doing a job out of sincere duty to her country – in spite of her personal reluctance? In that case, kudos. And respect.
        On the other hand,
        her managing of the campaign.. not good. That bad with strategy, organization and economy.. not good at all.

        But the Carville quote about office positions was great: “Once you’re asked, you’re fucked”. Applies to lots of things in life.

        And a good read – thanks for the tip!

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        • Glad you enjoyed it – puts us even more on the same page!

          The HIllary thing was indeed interesting and an eye opener. My theory is that it was hte wrong mileau for her – Bill was htere and no matter what, these two were competing. Very much an undercurrent, but I htink it was htere.

          Bill wasn’t a Sect’y State; that one is hers alone. So she’s probably better at it.

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          • Yup, I’ll bet there’s highly complicated relations there..
            And this whole “dynasty” thing was also something I hadn’t given that much thought before. How Bill is pushing for grander things – beyond his grave. Bet he would have liked to have more children as well. Fill the government and the future history of the United States with important people. While I reject aristocracy and the idea of dominating wealthy families, there is something relevant and interesting on a human level – understanding the forces and personal destinies. And to paraphrase; “once you’re in – you’re fucked”.

            Another topic from the book – the gop candidates. If Pawlenty, Romney and Huckabee were that flawed the last time – what are we looking at next year? Newt? Palin? Giuliani? Maybe we’ll end up with a weak GOP candidate either way – but if the economy and unemployment stay bad, Dems and Obama will struggle, and with heavy corporate ad-funding.. who knows. Palin might be the candidate – by some mistake or coincidence.

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    • 400 pages.. ok. I badly needed a break after 1200 of Caro. And thinking on the Moses-scale was exhaustive. Crazy man.
      But I’ll get the book.

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      • It flies! (You’ll be back to Caro in no time.) I just returned my copy to the library – it was very hard not to read with a pen in hand furiously underlinging passages !

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  2. Bush ‘was dumbfounded.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard a more scathing indictment of McCain than that.

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    • Yeah, that certainly is the very bottom of the barrel.

      (There is a bit where McCain puts Palin on the phone with Paulson, which left Paulson just sputtering. )

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  3. Pingback: Reading “Game Change” – two years after ’08. « Talkandpolitics.

  4. I recall a lot of stuff about Palin, and she sounded maybe bi-polar.

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    • She sure was a pouty Patty. I read it to mean she was just spoiled. The bit where McCain actually handed Paulson’s phone call off to Palin was astonishing.

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