"Game Change" was not even on sale and it was already roiling the political waters with its shocking revelations. There is a rich tradition of books about presidential campaigns that break news not revealed during the campaign and "Game Change" has PLENTY of revelations. The one getting a great deal of play was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's inappropriate racially tinged comments about candidate Obama, which managed to be kept under wraps, while then-Senator Biden's made their way out. 2008 was the year of "Candidates Gone Wild," saying ridiculous and inappropriate things like Obama's comment on people clinging to their guns, religion, and bitterness. But there's so much here that never got out. Like Elizabeth Edwards, who has carefully cultured a public persona as the victimized suffering wife, belittling her husband John as a "hick" and in private launching into obscenity laced tirades at him and about him. Heilemann and Halperin examine both sides of the race and there are plenty of great gossipy stories on both sides, as well as other shocking revelations, such as how rushed the selection of Governor Sarah Palin as Vice-President was. We already knew that virtually no one in the Republican leadership was consulted over the choice and only know do we learn how rushed the decision was and how little thought or consideration was truly given to the choice. Moreover, the choice was primarily tactical in nature, designed to knock the Obama campaign off balance and off guard. Only after Palin was selected did the McCain campaign realize that they had made a huge tactical error they could not undo. The ensuing problems within the McCain-Palin campaign are chronicled here, but considering how much press there was at the time there's little here that breaks new ground. It is however a very great, gripping recounting of the chain of events.
Obama comes off every bit as stage-crafted and stage-managed as Ronald Reagan ever was. Heilemann and Halperin aptly capture the duality of his persona; on the stump Obama is well spoken, on message, cool, calm, and collected. Off the stump he is profane, prone to quick flashes of anger, and at times tentative and uncertain. Hillary Clinton comes off pretty much as was covered in the press at the time, but what IS news is her unsurprisingly blunt comment to Obama that she "cannot control her husband". Bill Clinton gets almost as much print here for his wildly inappropriate comments on the stump and in private about Candidate Obama and it's clear to see that what undid Hillary wasn't her efforts, but those of her husband. We get the clearest glimpse into Obama's hard sell when he talks Hillary Clinton into ending her campaign and into becoming Secretary of State as well.
"Game Change" answers many of the questions you had about the campaign, but which were never answered, like Rudy Giuliani's foolish all-or-nothing gamble on the Florida Primary and why he truly got out of the race, the Democratic conclave that prodded then-Senator Obama into the race in the first place, and so much more. Reading "Game Change" is like reliving the campaign all over again, but THIS time with the insider knowledge of details that were omitted by the campaigns and the press. If anything this will not only enlighten you but enrage you, as the media and the press clearly are NOT doing their jobs at all. All of this SHOULD have made it's way into the news during the campaign and yet it didn't. Truth is stranger than fiction, and with truth written this well, who needs fiction?
"Game Change" is about the 2008 election. The most obvious question is "What could be new in this book - the campaign was already covered in incredible detail for nearly two years by bloggers, national media, local media - anyone with a camera and/or a link to the Internet. The answer is that most of the material concerns previously unreported personal details rather than much in the way of national policy or any sort of analysis of the electorate. The result is that whether you like it or not, "Game Change" has put the nation back into a supercharged 'gossip mode,' combining high-level scandals in the Clinton, Edwards, and McCain campaigns, with allegations of presidential unfitness in the Clinton, Edwards, and McCain-Palin campaigns, along with a bit of racism thrown in for good measure. This volatile mixture has since been ignited by "60 Minutes," "Good Morning America," and other TV interviews. Initial reaction from those named in the book has largely been denial, except for Senator Reid regarding his comments on Senator Obama's relatively benign blackness not being an impediment for the presidency. Denials, unfortunately, will probably go unrebutted - the book makes extensive use of unattributed quotes and deep-background interviews that don't permit fact-checking.
Sarah Palin clearly provides the juiciest material, mostly from McCain's campaign manager Steve Schmidt. It's a strange position - he led McCain to Palin, then lambasts her unfitness and poor preparation, and finally ends up admitting that without her it would have been worse. Regardless, it's scary to see how close she came to being a heartbeat away from the presidency, despite barely understanding what the Cold War was all about, not understanding why there's a North and South Korea, or even what the Federal Reserve does. Palin even believed that Saddam was behind 9/11. "Game Change" also contends V.P. Cheney thought she was a poor pick. Worse yet, some contend she had bipolar symptoms - perky at times, catatonic at others. McCain operatives clearly had not done their vetting homework, then tried to make up for it by shielding her from the press - no open press conferences, and planning to make her a ceremonial V.P. in the event the McCain-Palin ticket won. Palin's real attraction was being a female - Schmidt et al somehow hoped that disillusioned Hillary supporters would flock to Palin.
Surprisingly, Elizabeth Edwards doesn't come off well either, given problems with cancer and a philandering husband. Instead, we learn that she was seen by insiders as an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, and vindictive crazy-woman, not the public persona of valiant and heroic. Elizabeth also referred to her husband back in 2004 in front of others as being her intellectually inferior - something that hard to accept at face value given his success as a trial lawyer. Naturally, John Edwards doesn't come out well either, though its surprising how badly he did. There was the obvious problem with his affair with a publicist; worse yet, his attempts to sell his endorsement to Obama in return for first the V.P., then the Attorney General positions. Obama, in return, responded that if he took such a deal he himself wouldn't deserve to be president.
Hillary Clinton was the smart-money choice for the Democratic nomination early on. However, some party leaders worried about her polarizing effect, as well as old baggage from the Bill Clinton presidency. Thus, supporters that the Clintons thought they could count on worked quitely to pord Obama to run - hence, Reid's ill-fated thoughts on a 'light-skinned Negro.' Hillary Clinton's supporters, not surprisingly, also had concerns about Bill's womanizing possibly affecting the campaign. To their relief they found that only one of the rumors was likely true - surprisingly, it never became an issue. Bill did cause/acerbate a serious problem, however, in his early discussions with Senator Kennedy - the former president's negative and racist comments about Obama offended Senator Kennedy deeply. On the other side, Mrs. Clinton's reaction to the loss in Iowa, however, did make some of her supporters wonder if she was stable enough to be president. "Game Change" also reports that Hillary had a staffer attempt to obtain Caroline Kennedy's endorsement - making it easy for Caroline to refuse the call and ignore Hillary. Interesting factoid - Hillary was talked out of running in 2004 by Chelsea, who recommended completing Hillary's Senate term first. If Hillary had won the 2004 nomination, it's not likely that Obama would have been offered the keynote speech, and . . . . Regardless, Hillary also gets a black mark for thinking about her V.P. partner as early as 2007.
Then there's the scandal I just never would have suspected - Mrs. McCain. We already knew she had a prior problem with, and overcame a drug addiction. Now we learn that there's credible reason to believe she had a long-term Arizona boyfriend. Campaign aides reportedly forced the Senator to confront her on it (no names offered), and the book also reports that they often fought in public and that there was little warmth between the couple. (Based on reports elsewhere, that probably is true.)
Bottom Line: "Game Change" is readable, interesting, and unfortunate. Unfortunate in that we learn that many of those who would lead us aren't worthy of the responsibility.
Amid the hoopla surrounding this book in the days prior to it's release, I couldn't wait to get a copy. Reading this book, I continually asked myself it was really worth all the hype or just a ratification of things I already knew. The last 10 years, the United States has been embroiled in such a divisive political atmosphere it comes as no surprise that most of the best-selling books are about politics and politicians ... intelligent books written about or by politicians have proven to be cash-cows that do nothing more than "energize the base" or fuel/ignite the opposition. "Game Change" gives me mixed feelings.
We should have known this was coming ... the implosion of political candidates is as entertaining as the losers that humiliate themselves on the American Idol auditions year-after-year. Years ago, a news periodical like Newsweek or Time would run juicy after-election articles documenting a defeated candidates horridly-run campaign that always included incidents of the candidate "losing grip" at one point or another. "Game Change" seemed to be nothing more than a compilation of such articles, but expertly welded together to create a generously smooth flow for the reader. In other words, other than the juicy details of the vitriol and carnage, the book didn't really reveal anything new about anyone or anything.
After all, the 24/7 news cycle already gives us more information than we need to know about all the subject matter in this book:
- we already knew obama was a "smooth operator"; intelligent and gifted at reading other people's speeches ... his outright cocky demeanor and his obvious, deep and admirable devotion to his wife and children.
- it came as no surprise that the facade Hillary Clinton publicly displays will never fully conceal the hostility simmering inside her or the holier-than-thou ego that creates a deep sense of distrust by others.
- is it surprising that John McCain is "out of touch" or that John Edwards is a narcissistic snake that is all style and NO substance?
- is there ANYTHING new (positive or negative) about Sarah Palin that hasn't already been revealed?
As a whole, "Game Change" seems to rehash many of the same stories that have been popular on most of the mainstream political blogs, which I felt was somewhat disappointing. For me, there are too few eyebrow-raising moments. If anything, the book reminded me of a movie trailer on TV that is so good you are enticed to actually see the movie in a theatre ... only to leave the theatre realizing the only good parts of the movie were in the trailer (the Harry Reid quote comes to mind).
However, what I DID enjoy about this book was:
1) it was definitely a very entertaining read ... after all, these politicians are just regular dopes like the rest of us ... they do and say stupid things ... and oftentimes, they don't always have their acts together ... in fact, I enjoyed the depiction of all these politicians displaying playground-level antics and tantrums.
2) the President has a penchant for dropping F-bombs, which I found humorous on a number of occasions
3) finding out how truly selfish, shallow and egotistical our political leaders really are.
4) how much all these people genuinely detest one another ...
5) the book is fair in that it doles-out dirt on everyone and really doesn't take sides (a truly refreshing change of pace)
Finishing "Game Change" left me with one huge question: With backstabbing, dirty tricks, lying and snickering being such a way of life for these people; how or why should ANYONE really trust ANY of them?
We always wonder what's going on behind the scenes of an election and in the lives of the Washington elite. Most of us know, or eventually learn, that politicians are typically loathsome characters of few morals and mammoth egos who think nothing of lying, cheating and, in general, being insufferable human beings. And, we get a chance to see it all, up close, in this new book by political reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. We get the opportunity to look behind the scenes and see these people as they really are. It's both fun and frightening. It's quite revealing. To wit . . .
Bill Clinton wanted Ted Kennedy to endorse Hillary. But instead, he angered Kennedy so badly that Kennedy went all out for Obama. Here's how it happened according to the book . . .
"As Hillary bungled Caroline, Bill's handling of Ted was even worse. The day after Iowa, he phoned Kennedy and pressed for an endorsement, making the case for his wife. But Bill then went on, belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy. Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said,' A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.' "
Of course, we have to wonder if Kennedy was telling the truth or perhaps colorizing it to fit his own agenda since Kennedy was not a moral or virtuous man or one known for telling the truth. So, in reality, this story is secondhand. It could be false or it could be taken out of context. Or, it could be true.
On another matter the Clintons wanted to go after Obama's drug use. Can you imagine alleged coke sniffer Bill going after alleged dope smoker Obama? Well, that was going to be the way it went down if the Clintons had their way.
And . . .
Before BHO decided to run for president, the Obamas flew to Nashville, TN to get Al Gore's assurance that he would not run.
Among the things we learn . . .
When Obama asked Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, she initially turned him down. Why? Bill's penchant for controversy. She felt it would interfere with her efforts in the job.
When President-elect Obama called her again to convince her to be his secretary of state, Clinton told him there was a problem. That great big mouthy problem was her husband. "You've seen what this is like; it will be a circus if I take this job," she said to Obama.
Clinton almost never admits this to anyone. And, Obama who seldom shows his vulnerable side, admits to Hillary that he needs her. He seems overwhelmed with the economy and all that's going on, all that faces him.
The McCain-Palin camp was afraid that Sarah Palin would screw things up because of the tremendous amount of information she needed to debate Biden. "The debate was going to be a debacle of historic and epic proportions...she was not focused...not engaged." She was not really participating in the prep, the authors add.
In a recent news article Palin's spokeswoman, Meghan Stapleton, said in a statement: "The Governor's descriptions of these events are found in her book, 'Going Rogue.' Her descriptions are accurate. She was there. These reporters were not." Stapleton was talking about what was said about Palin in this book by the authors.
and then . . .
McCain aides confront Cindy McCain over reports that she had an extramarital affair.
The authors tell us that Hillary Clinton was so confident she would get the Democratic nomination that she had two top advisers planning her transition for after she won the general election.
They also point out that up until only days before the Republican Convention, Sen. John McCain was still thinking Sen. Joe Lieberman would be his running mate, until the "blowback" was so strong, they feared Lieberman would be rejected by the party, forcing the last-minute choice of Palin for the role.
Steve Schmidt, John McCain's former chief campaign strategist believes the Obama-Biden victory would have been even more lopsided without Palin on the Republican ticket, according to the book.
On John Edwards . . .
John Edwards went from being typically conceited to having megalomania. Women were always after him. He loved it and it fed his enormous ego. But it was also a problem for the campaign.
Edwards thought the contest would be between him and Hillary. The Clinton camp thought the same thing.
Edwards was normally warm to his staff. But he turned disdainful. He ignored and dismissed them. He even mistreated both staff and supporters. "You can't talk to people that way, "an aid told him after one of his displays. "People didn't like the new John Edwards."
Surprisingly, Elizabeth Edwards was fast to show John that she was his intellectual superior. She called him a "hick" in front of people and derided him for having "redneck parents." She called some staffers idiots. Her illness mellowed her in the early months of 2005 - but not for long.
While John's wife may have made him feel small, his new gal pal made him feel like a king. She told him that he had "the power to change the world," that "the people will follow you." She told him that he could be as great a leader as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. She told him, "You're so real. You just need to get your staff out of your way." She reinforced everything he already believed about himself. She told him exactly what he wanted and needed to hear.
No one gets off free in the book. The authors tell us that Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had referred privately to Barack Obama early in his campaign as a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
Ladies and gentlemen . . . meet America's elite.
This book makes Lady Chatterley's Lover as sexy as a high school algebra text book. It makes Madame Bovary look positively saintly. If even half of what this book reports is true, I've got higher forms of life on the bottom of my shoe than we've got running our country.
What a read. Gustave Flaubert couldn't have written it any better.
- Susanna K. Hutcheson
Heilemann and Halperin write a revelatory book for our current political climate. Right off the bat, let me state that it appears no one in the book has denied the stories or quotes from this chronicle. So I am rather confident, these knowledgeable journalists had great sources and speak the truth. Some of it may be embellished but the book is a great page turner.
As a political junkie during 2008 campaign, I thought I knew it all, but I was not privy to many of the disclosures in this book. Let's review some:
Hillary Clinton: I knew she thought she would walk into the nomination, but with all her know-how, she really underestimated Obama's organization and Bill's lack of influence. I was sort of shocked that many of the senators had secretly approached Obama to persuade him to run, knowing that Hillary could not win. She is too divisive and naïve about loyalty. It was fascinating that Hillary strongly supported Obama for Senator; I did not know that she braved a snowstorm to arrive in Chicago to help him. I also was shocked she had a transition "team" in place before the primary.
Obama: Calculating and rather arrogant. I was a bit surprised with his flashes of anger but he seemed to sail through muddy times - Jeremiah Wright being the worst. It's hard to believe he survived that travesty which gives me hope that he can overcome his less than stellar first year.
The Edwards: Wow, fascinating. I really did not know he is such a cad and Elizabeth is a sharp-tongued shrew. I don't understand how those two believed if he did win the nomination, his cheating becoming public knowledge, that he could win. It would be death for a Democratic victory. I was not surprised that he was so confident he wanted to make a deal with Obama that Obama could be his Veep. The Edwards fall from grace was disheartening. His loyal staff deserves applause and sympathy.
Now Sarah Palin, not too many surprises for me. She is the anti-intellect and probably the cleverest politician in the group. She was not dedicated to public service (i.e. quits governorship) and duped so many shallow voters. I did not know that she could not recall Biden's name during the VP debate, hence her request to call him Joe! She did slip up once during the debate and referred to him as O'Biden.
These journalists wrote a tight, fascinating narrative of the campaign. It was a game changer and they helped change it providing us with the superb anecdotes. I have since heard both of them on news shows and they are astute and continue to support their statements. Maybe they should run for office!
on January 12, 2010
I was amazed that this book had so much NEW to say, after the plethora of books, commentaries and TV/print reporter opinions about the 2008 election. I thought that we knew everything about John & Cindy McCain, Sarah Palin, John Edwards and his wife, Hillary & Bill Clinton and of course Barack & Michelle Obama. But no. The authors provide tons of insightful material that gives more clues about why the Obamas won the election. The McCains were fighting furiously between each other, Mrs Edwards was not the nice person we all thought and the Obamas were even happier than they appear to be. The Harry Reid comment has captured the media attention this week but this unexpectedly good book provides valuable new material about one of the most historic elections in this country. Well done.Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
on January 16, 2010
Game Change is a great read. Regardless of who you voted for or supported, Game Change is a book worth reading. Exposing the behind the scenes events of the major Democratic and Republican players with a keen eye towards the details, conversations and motives, Halpern and Heilemann deftly provide an insiders view to the reader. This is one of those "can't put down" books that you will most likely finish within 48 hours of starting. Whether you are politically oriented or not, Game Change is well worth reading - and an added benefit is you'll have a better eye for what is happening in upcoming elections based on the insights gained in reading this eye-opening view of the 2008 Presidential election.
on January 14, 2010
I think this book is a must-read for political junkies, but also for those who are interested in American politics but never knew how parties choose candidates, how caucuses work (and how candidates with little popular support get to be "kingmakers"), or appreciated how hard it is to be a presidential candidate, with punishing schedules, warring staff members and having to modify positions and even campaign themes at a minute's notice.
The single chapter on Sarah Palin doesn't tell us much we didn't know about her already or could be reasonably expected (loss of appetite, periods of depression, the rigors of the road, missing her baby and no understanding of how national campaigns work). It's interesting that she (and Todd) were so obsessed over her ratings in Alaska (which would not impact the election) versus in the Lower 48 (which would), and that she seemed ready and willing to change her positions if it helped the McCain ticket win the election (backtracking only when asked to do a TV ad in support of embryonic stem cell research). In fact, despite the revelation that Sarah Palin is not knowledgeable about American or World history or domestic or foreign policy, she comes off as rather more sympathetic when the urgency of her selection - giving her no time to prepare - is taken into context. However, it reinforces the belief - even among people like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney - that McCain only cared about winning the Presidency, and put America LAST. And that when he made the poor decision to leave his VP choice until the last minute then cynically choose Palin, when she faltered, he let his staff do the hatchet job on her.
The chapter focussed entirely on the Edwards was explosive - not for revelations about his affair with Rielle Hunter, but how the reality differs so much from the public perception...and especially Edwards' desparation to take any old job, offering to cut a deal with Obama to be his VP before Iowa and one to be Hillary's Attorney General after she won New Hampshire.
The real surprises included: Obama was the only member of Team Obama who sympathized with Hillary when she cried in New Hampshire (although she insisted privately that she never cried); Mike Henry intentionally leaking an internal memo to a member of Rod Blagojevich's staff; that Maureen Dowd was part of the inner circle which urged Obama to run for President; how Hillary's camp tried to get Bill Richardson and Joe Biden to get their delegates to move over to her side during the Iowa caucuses but was spurned; the Harvard Professor who knocked heads together when the Obama campaign was faltering; Lindsay Graham's intensive lobbying for Lieberman to be on the McCain ticket; how Democrats who publicly supported Hillary were backing Obama behind the scenes due to fear of retribution if Hillary won; the number of women with whom Bill Clinton was believed - by Hillary's campaign - to be romantically involved, and how important both potential First Ladies were in deciding who was in and who was out of favor. It's stressed throughout that Obama has a huge ego, but he comes off as one of the saner players in the craziness that is national politics. That said, he allowed his minions to covertly go negative on Hillary when he found out Hillary's supporters or her campaign were the source of every accusation, rumor and dubious story that made it to the internet (and some, eventually, to the MSM).
It's worth investing in this book (even if it's not on Kindle - can you Kindlers PLEASE stop rating a book you haven't read?) to learn how the whole selection and election process works - the behind-the-scenes manoevering, horse-trading and betrayals.
on January 12, 2010
Because of the long and credible history of the authors they were able to get the true behind the scenes look at the 2008 campaign. Their insight was not all new but it was good to see that a lot of the things I've read in bits and pieces were actually true, but then again, where there's smoke, there's fire usually holds true the great majority of the time.
If you love politics, whether you're a member of the Democratic or Republican party, you'll enjoy this book. You might not like reading the truth about your favorite politician but it's wise for all of us to remember that is what they are no matter how they try to come across.
For all of you giving this book One Star because it's not available on Kindle, do you mean to tell me you can't wait a month? Or is there some other type of behind the scenes work at hand here?
I read this book from cover to cover in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't usually buy political books but as I said they've established themselves as Washington insiders over the years and knew the people to talk to. It's worth waiting a month for the Kindle version. At least give the authors a chance, they don't deserve a one star review for the publisher's decision to bring it out a month later. Complain to Harper Collins if necessary but don't bash the authors!
I've just been reading a few of the one star reviews. I can't say I really disagree with much of what I read, but in the end I still think this is a 5 star book, if for no other reason than pure entertainment value. I could not stop reading it. I would have read it in the shower if I could. It's not often a book exerts that special gravitational pull. So yes, 5 stars.
But even more than sheer entertainment, I was fascinated to see the 2008 Presidential campaign from the other side of the curtain. I was fascinated to get this inside glimpse of what goes on in such a high stakes political campaign, and to relive events I'd seen merely as a consumer of popular media in a totally new light. A truly enjoyable and enlightening read.