Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Book review of Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime

Although President Obama isn't quite half-way into his first term, I think it's safe to declare that the 2008 presidential election will end up, like the 1800, 1860, 1912, and 1980 contests, to be a transformational election. But it may not be transformational in the manner Obama wants it--the seeds of the Tea Party movement germinated in the fall of '08. On the flipside, the election of our first African-American president was an historic event. I'm the same age as Obama, while we were toddlers, Jim Crow laws were in force throughout the South. And if the president succeeds in his effort to shove America to the left, well, we will all point to November, 2008.

I'm a fortunate blogger who has been asked to review the paperback edition of  Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime as part of a virtual book tour. The hardcover version was published in January; it is authored by Mark Halperin, the senior political analyst for Time, and John Heilemann, who covers politics for New York magazine.

Halperin and Heilemann's Game Change revelations were widely reported upon its  initial release, including the angst of the McCain campaign over Sarah Palin's glaring knowledge gaps, including her belief that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks and her inability to explain why North and South Korea were separate nations. She is said to have remarked, "I wish I had paid more attention to this stuff." On the other hand, the duo use a "deep background" approach to the book: no sources for quotes such as that one are identified, and Palin is a critic of the book.

Majority Leader Harry Reid is identified as an early Obama presidential backer--in 2006--telling the freshman that he wasn't a good fit for the Senate. I find that quite ironic--Obama couldn't handle being a senator--so therefore he should run for president? Huh? As I've noted many times in this blog in 2008, Obama's lack of executive experience was a good reason why he shouldn't be elected to our nation's top office. Now we learn that he wasn't even a very good senator.

Mark Halperin
Reid's boneheaded comment about Obama, that he was was "light-skinned" and had "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one" caused a big headache for the Nevadan, but one that was largely forgotten last month when he defeated Republican Sharron Angle.

As for other Democrats, Game Change also zooms in on the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. It's hard to believe, but the former North Carolina senator and vice presidential nominee was seen as a top contender to win his party's nomination three winters ago. Both Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, come across as horrible people here. Yes, I'm aware that the volatile Ms. Edwards is suffering from terminal cancer. John's reckless affair with New Age filmmaker with Rielle Hunter may not have sunk his campaign, but it certainly destroyed his reputation. Still, the end of the Edwards' marriage is a sad tale. Like The Great Gatsby's Tom and Daisy Buchanan, perhaps they do really belong together.

John Heilemann
We learn that Obama was a reluctant candidate at first--Michelle had reservations about the run. Hillary Clinton was not reluctant, in fact she considered challenging President Bush in 2004--but her daughter Chelsea talked her out of it. Ironically, despite my conservatism and my participation in several conference calls with John McCain and my attendance at the Republican National Convention, I identified mostly with Hillary while reading the book. I, too, was frustrated by the mainstream media's half-hearted coverage of the soft-underbelly of Obama--his ties to political fixer Tony Rezko and unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers. Late in the Democratic primary season, the Hillary camp was hoping for a devastating Obama revelation that would sink the Hope and Change juggernaut. I had the same longings in the fall as the McCain campaign floundered after his biggest blunder--his shoot-from-the-hip decision to suspend his campaign after the September financial collapse.

In a way, McCain improvised much of his effort--which aided his cause after his campaign nearly collapsed over the immigration bill debacle in 2007. But he was no match for Team Obama the following autumn.

The authors add an afterword for the paperback edition. They speculate about the political future of Hillary, Biden, and Palin, noting that in 2016 the two Democrats will be roughly the same age McCain was when he was his party's nominee--will they make one last attempt to win the job they've been aspiring to for decades? If so, I believe problems await them. Gaffe-prone Biden, although valued by Obama as vice president (according to the authors), is on his way to Dan Quayle punch-line purgatory, that is, if he isn't there already. The most recent WikiLeaks revelations have damaged Clinton's reputation. Besides, barring a change in the primary and caucus itinerary in 2016, Hillary will have to campaign in Iowa, a place she doesn't like, as Heilemann and Halperin tell us:
She found Iowans diffident and presumptuous; she felt they were making her grovel. Hillary detested pleading for anything, from money to endorsements, and in Iowa it was no different.
And later:
She bitched about Iowa's scruffy hotels and looked for excuses to avoid staying overnight.
Then there is Palin. Even if she really was oblivious to many foreign policy issues after her vice presidential nomination and unaware, as the authors state, of what the Federal Reserve did, she's certainly more up to speed now. She has relative youth on her side as well, should she choose to run in 2012 or sometime later.

Oh, does anyone think a septuagenarian Biden will make fewer gaffes?

This is an important book. Not just as a look back--but as a look forward.

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1 comment:

trish said...

You give a lot of food for thought, John! I'm very much looking forward to the 2012 presidential elections, and what happened in 2008 will greatly influence what happens in the future. Thanks for being on this tour. I appreciate the thoughtful review.