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.