From two of the best political reporters in the country comes the gripping inside story of the historic 2008 presidential election. In this volume, the authors use their unrivaled access to pull back the curtain on the Obama, Clinton, McCain, and Palin campaigns.
At the risk of sounding biased myself, I want to mention my misgivings about the book, misgivings that grew stronger as I read the book. I do not begrudge the authors their preference for the left side of the political spectrum but I did expect them, in fairness, to be as tough on the "Obamans" as they were on the "McCaniacs," the Clintons and the Edwards family. By choosing what incidents to reveal about each candidate and, more importantly, what personality traits of theirs to stress, the authors subtly built their case that the election was won by the best person running. That may very well prove to be the case but this approach does give the book an uneven feel.
Heilemann and Halperin are far less subtle when contrasting the conservative media to the liberal media, however, and this is where they expose their bias to the degree that I began to question the "truth" in the rest of the book. For instance, there is a reference on page 334 to the "flying monkeys of conservative talk radio" and another on page 375 to the "right-wing freak show" of cable news shows. Left wing commentators, on the other hand, are rarely mentioned other than to call Chris Matthews a "cable talking head." I point this out only because this kind of thing causes me, as a reader, to wonder what other, more subtle, tricks I may be missing when judging the content of the book.
I do believe that what the authors reveal about each of the candidates and their spouses is substantially true - perhaps because so many of the revelations reinforce what I suspected at the time about John and Elizabeth Edwards, Sarah Palin, John McCain, the Clintons and a few of the other bit players. President Obama was more of a clean slate to me in 2008 than he is today and that leads me to believe that he is treated very gently in "Game Change."
Heilemann and Halperin have written a must-read book for political junkies, one that is surprisingly easy to read and absorb. Although much of what is discussed will be old news to those who followed the 2008 election closely, even the most astute follower of American politics will be surprised and saddened by some of what the authors present here. This is a depressing book, not one to give much hope that America is in good hands today, nor that she has been in good hands for the past two decades. Perhaps that is the real value offered by "Game Change" - exposing a state primary system that allows a handful of voters to determine the candidates from which the rest of the country will be allowed to choose. We have to do better than this.
Rated at: 4.0
Told in three sections, relating to the Democratic primary, the Republican primary, and the general election, respectively, the account attempts to be charitable to most of the participants, and it largely succeeds (no doubt, because many of the actors were sources for the book). Despite the obvious and heightened animosity created by the campaigns, Obama, Hillary and Bill Clinton, McCain and Biden appear as admirable politicians, despite their eccentricities. On the other hand, Palin is clearly out of her depth, bordering on imbalanced, while John Edwards seems mostly to be an overly ambitious lightweight with delusions of grandeur.
To their credit, Halperin and Heilemann do not allow a myriad of uncovered details to overwhelm the basic storylines of the election. Instead, the details seem to flesh out narratives already detailed by political reporters during the campaign itself. For example, the looming arrival of Bill Clinton, whose personality threatened to overwhelm both the Clinton campaign and the Obama campaign at different times, hangs over the story. For months, Hillary's advisers sought to keep her out of his shadow, to the point where he was virtually ignored by the entire campaign. This avoidance also prevented the campaign from tapping into Bill Clinton's political knowledge and experience.
In many ways, the story of each campaign in the primaries is one where disaster threatens to overwhelm and sink the campaign at any moment. While many reporters recognized that McCain's campaign floundered in the summer of 2007, few recognized how dysfunctional it was even after that near death experience. To slightly lesser extent, though, the Clinton campaign seemed plagued with similar problems: dueling personalities advising the campaign, with the resulting miscommunication and noncommunication between essential people.
Halperin and Heilemann reveal that at key moments Obama, Clinton, and McCain each had to assert control over the direction of their campaigns, usually with almost immediate benefits. In desperation, Hillary regrouped after the Iowa caucuses and followed her own strategy in winning the New Hampshire primary. At the low point of his campaign following the media storm around previous comments by his minister, Obama instituted new internal communication patterns and gave his defining speech on race. Low on money, and no longer the front runner, McCain recaptured the aura of the underdog, at least through the competitive primaries.
The character development of two key players almost seems like a fairytale. Sarah Palin appears less qualified in these pages then even during key moments in the campaign, such as the infamous Katie Couric interview. With radical mood swings, which some advisors uncharitably attributed to hormones, she vacillates between an eager – almost overeager – candidate gripping the horns and riding through the whirlwind and a depressed person whose separation from her family and overwhelming demands render her uncommunicative and virtually catatonic.
On the other hand, Barack Obama seems more even keeled, and even wiser, then the "No Drama Obama" image presented by his campaign. Although he sometimes comes across as distant, he seems to always understand the stakes. At one point, this allows him to shake up his own advisers through the well-timed imitation of a colleague to address what he believed to be the shortcomings of their campaign. But in the end, particularly in the way he approached the financial market meltdown, Obama gained the grudging respect, if not appreciation, of both Hillary and Bill Clinton, which laid the foundation for Obama's surprising pick of Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State.
On the whole, the book is an enjoyable and quick read, almost with the quality of a page turner. It is well researched, which is not surprising given the spectacular quality of Halperin's and Heilemann's sources, evident in their magazine reporting. At times, the narrative seems a bit thin, especially at points where the narrative jumps. And it might've been more interesting, though clearly more challenging to have merged the stories of both the Democratic and Republican primaries, but that is a mere quibble.
It's broken up into three parts. Part one was the democratic primary, the largest section of the book, which is no real surprise as the the whole primary season was so different than anything my generation had ever witnessed. Part two is the Republican primary, which is the shortest section of the book, because aside from John McCain's "surprise comeback" there wasn't much to the Republican primary. The final section was the general election and focused on a lot on Sarah Palin being chosen and how the Obama campaign would have to deal with it.
Highly entertaining at parts. Highly enlightening...and mostly, for the most part, Each of those portrayed was exactly how I felt they came across in public.
Don’t get me wrong. I supported him throughout the campaign, voted for him on election day and now rant about the shenanigans in the House and Senate that are preventing him from doing the job he was elected to do. It’s just that he’s so perfect. No one can possibly be that perfect.
This book was a HUGE disappointment. It all but deifies Barack and Michelle Obama. I include Michelle because the other candidates’ spouses were thoroughly trashed. Except Todd Palin who got off rather easy.
The first two-thirds of the book were riveting. Every bit of dirty laundry belonging to Hill&Bill was hung out to dry. Every detail of every misstep of her ill-fated campaign was endlessly analyzed. John Edwards was portrayed as hopelessly out of touch, his wife less saintly than her reputation. The implication is that she drove him into Rielle Hunter’s arms.
Barack Obama could do no wrong and his campaign was perfect.
The last third of the book covering the election, had much less substance. It felt thrown together. What should have been the most exciting period in the run-up to the election with all of the material being provided by Sarah Palin’s mangling of the English language and attempts at gravitas instead managed to be almost boring. There were a few behind the scenes anecdotes that did much less harm to her reputation than the skewering she received from SNL and other late night comics. The big revelation that Cindy McCain has a boyfriend falls flat. All of the tired criticisms of McCain are trotted out.
And Barack Obama could do no wrong and his campaign was perfect.
The authors promise much more than they deliver. They have an obvious bias towards Obama. I feel cheated. I was promised “The Race of a Lifetime” but got “Barack and Michelle Obama are saints and everyone else are sinners” instead.
Even though the ending of this book is a foregone conclusion, and even though I followed the events of the 2008 election very closely, I still found this book incredibly compelling. Highly recommended.
John Heilmann and Mark Halperin
Over the summer I chose to read the book about the 2008 presidential election. In this book the authors give detailed accounts into the inside of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, as well as other 2008 presidential nominees’ hopefuls. I chose to read this book because I have gained an interest in politics and campaigning, and this book seemed to be a good fit. Also since I support President Obama, this book allowed me to further expand my knowledge as to how he was able to beat veterans Hillary Clinton, and John McCain. By reading this book I was able to get the inside look as to what was going when there were no cameras on, and how the candidates were planning to win the primaries and if they could win the presidential election.
This book also made me wonder as to how some of the candidates really felt about winning. For example, early on in the book it seemed as if John McCain could care less after his campaign was on a downward spiral during the 2008 republican primaries. This was interesting because it was confusing as to how he was able to pull his campaign out of the rut it had been in during the primaries. I also enjoyed this book because I thought that it was good for me to study how these candidates campaign and how politics works because sometime in the near future I plan to get involved in politics for my career. By reading this book I was able to read and see how Barack Obama was able to beat all the odds and become president of the United States of America. This was my favorite section of the book and the book as a whole really allowed me to gain a greater interest in politics and campaigning.
By being able to gain more knowledge and a greater interest in politics that made me more enjoy the book because the whole point of reading the book was to learn more about the 2008 presidential election. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in politics or to anyone who wants to learn about politics and campaigning.
Very nostalgic, reading about the hope and energy (I've repressed the terror I felt at the time that McCain would win) of those times, and remembering what a blessed relief it was on November 5.
"More than any election in memory, 2008 was a battle in which the candidates were celebrities, larger-than-life characters who crashed together to create a story uncommonly emotional for politics; a drama rich and captivating and drenched in modern complexities surrounding race, gender, class, religion, and age; a multimedia spectacle that unspooled 24/7 on the Web, cable television, the late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live."
This was like watching an incredibly addicting TV show night after night...and then getting to see a behind the scenes look at the REAL drama of the show.
I almost could not put the book down...even though I knew the ending, knew most of the major events...the additional details about this race of a lifetime were incredibly compelling and made for a great story.
The book is divided into three parts covering the Democratic primary, the Republican primary and the general election. However, the overarching storyline is the friendship, rivalry and eventual reconciliation between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Clinton was very impressed with Obama in 2004 after he won the Democratic Senate primary in Illinois. She went to Illinois to help him raise funds for the general election. Little did she know that she would be aiding the man that probably kept her from being the first female President.
Along the way to electing Obama though, lots of scandal and alleged scandal is revealed. We are treated to the dynamics of the Clinton marriage, the insipid narcissism of John Edwards, the hot-headedness of John McCain, together with more evidence of his irresponsibility in selecting the all-style, no substance Sarah Palin as his running mate.
A few of the anecdotes in the book have been reported in the press, the Harry Reid comments, the portrayal of Elizabeth Edwards and the inability of Sarah Palin to remember Joe Biden's last name being the most notable. But, there are plenty of other revelations in here that will keep you turning the pages.
The authors do attempt to be a little too clever. The nicknames they create for each campaign: Obamans, Hillaryland, Edwardsphere, McCainworld are used repeatedly and get annoying.
Do NOT read this book if you are looking for an analysis of the issues that made the campaign the most exciting of my lifetime. However, if you are interested in marriage issues, in-fighting in campaigns, stumbles and bumbles, you will enjoy this book. I must admit that I did.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
Now that some time has passed and election fatigue is over, (and with all of the stunning events that have plagued this country in the past year, it seems like the election was years ago) it is time for an analysis of that historic election.
The authors spoke to many people on the inside of the presidential campaigns, and their insights are fascinating. This book is written in such a compelling manner, it reads more like a page-turning fiction book. And honestly, how many people just ten years ago could have predicted an African-American candidate would come out of nowhere to defeat a controversial former First Lady for the Democratic nomination and then win the Presidency?
One of the main themes of the book is that people who run for president have big egos. Obviously, you would have to have a big ego to believe that you should be the leader of the free world. Barack Obama's ego is on display when he whines that John Grisham's non-fiction book, An Innocent Man publishes on the same days as his, thus bumping him to second on the best seller list. "But I want to be number one" he whines.
When Hillary Clinton is deciding whether she should run for president, it is her husband Bill who clarifies for her, asking her a question that, reading this book, I had to wonder whether the other candidates asked themselves"You have to ask yourself one question, he replied. Of all the people running, would I be the best president? If you can answer yes, then you need to run. If you're not sure, then you need to think more about it, and if the answer is no, then don't do it."
Reading this book, I got the impression that some of the people working on these campaigns asked a different question: Can I get this person elected? Not whether this person is the most qualified, but the most electable; an important distinction in my mind.
John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth fare poorly in this book. Edwards' behavior is most appalling. When Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter begins to become common knowledge in his inner circle, he rips into a young, idealistic staffer, blaming the 27-year-old man for leaking the information. Edwards has the utter gall to scream at the young man "Why didn't you come to me like a (expletive deleted) man and tell me to stop (expletive deleted) her?" He actually blames this aide for not stopping him from committing adultery! That one incident alone tells more about Edwards lack of character than any other.
This book's account of Sarah Palin's rise to national prominence differs greatly from her Going Rogue. She is depicted as being in way over her head as a Vice-Presidential candidate. The campaign's attempts to bring her up to speed on subjects she needed to know for interviews and her debate with Joe Biden are disturbing. She wrote out flash cards to help her learn, and the stack was so big, it was overwhelming her. It reminds me of a college student cramming for a final when she never attended the class during the year.
There is so much crammed into this book, political junkies will be in heaven. It is also must-reading for anyone who is engaged in current events, and it puts into question whether the complicated primary process in its current form is the best way to elect the most important office in the land.
Reveals some shocking events and negotiations, not the least of which is Clintons refusal to be Secretary of State until Obama simply insists that he needs her and will not accept "no" as an answer. Fascinating stuff but not particularly hopeful for future elections. Obama jokingly tells Axelrod that he's going to write a book about all of it after it's over. The title? "This Is Ridiculous"
The authors say in their introduction that they set out to give 'an intimate portrait of the candidates and spouses who (in our judgement) stood a reasonable chance of occupying the White House' after the 2008 election. They conducted more than 300 interviews with more than 200 people between July 2008 and September 2009, while memories of the election campaign were still fresh, and produced a book bristling with direct quotes from behind the scenes. I wouldn't describe much of it as intimate in any real sense, but it's got a kind of gossipy fascination. The Obamas, the McCains, the Edwardses and especially the Clintons are all big characters, and all have marriages that have had to withstand unbelievable strain. Todd Palin gets mentioned quite a bit, but doesn't become a character in his own right, and not a lot of ink is spent on Sarah Palin herself – though what there is of her is even more bizarre than the press suggested at the time.
I don't know that the book does much to deepen the reader's understanding of the US political system in general or the 2007–8 election campaign in particular. The main take-home message seems to be that you don't have to be some kind of sociopath to run for President or Vice-President of the United States, but it helps. Miraculously, Barack Obama doesn't seem to be one. One does weep for US-style democracy, at least as seen through the lens of political journalism. I found myself empathising with the widespread fear of democracy in mid nineteenth century Australia, expressed in 1853 by John Plunkett, Attorney General of the colony of New South Wales:
All serious convulsions are carried out by demagogues; as a boiling cauldron throws its scum to the top, so in all social convulsions unworthy persons will be sure to get to the top, and betray the people for their own selfish purposes. The people left to themselves, and uncontrolled, will be hurled on to ruin by the ruffians who make them their dupes.
(Quoted in Peter Cochrane, Colonial Ambition, MUP 2006, p 379)
Not that ruffians and demagogues prevailed in 2008, but one gets the impression that without ruffianly behaviour and demagoguery, and certainly not without being able to deal with lashings of both, no one could ever become POTUS.
I do feel an itch to read an account as candid and thorough, and occasionally lurid, as this about an Australian election.
Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed Game Change and would recommend it to anyone even mildly interested in the 2008 presidential race.
Wow, has there ever been an election like the last one. It was fun. First we had Queen Hillary prancing along with King Bill like it was going to be a coronation and then along comes this guy Obama who kicks her butt. I mean bad, from one end of this nation to the other. Along the way John "Hair" Edwards gets shown for what he really is, a creep. Obama swept to the Democratic nomination all cool, calm, and collected. Hillary fought tooth and nail to the very end. At the Democratic convention Hillary gives a great speech. Good enough to get Secretary of State! But hey O, what's up with Joe Biden? Joe Biden O, is that the best you got?
And then on the Republican side. You had McCain, war hero, POW, and hard working Senator, and the seven mutts. Mitt Romney completely changing his positions to align with the electorate, same with Rudy. McCain starts strong and then runs out of money, goes rogue and low budget and comes storming back. McCain changed all his positions in order to bow, scrape, and kowtow to the religious right. It didn't do any good, they weren't buying it. But they aren't going to vote for Obama, no matter what. But hey this is politics. It's not about principles anymore, maybe never was. It's about focus groups, positioning, wedge issues, marketing, and money. Big on the money.
Anyway, McCain is getting his butt kicked good by Obama. Obama is harvesting the money off the internet like nobody's business and McCain is not doing very well. The old fighter pilot knows that he runs the same old campaign with a predictable running mate he is going to get shot down. So he picks Sarah Palin, who? We had never heard of her but have you ever heard a better convention speech than what she gave? It was awesome! She kicked some butt. McCain got a kick in the polls and the race was on.
The press started checking on Palin. They check thoroughly. What do they find? Well maybe she was not exactly opposed to the "bridge to nowhere," maybe she didn't exactly sell the State airplane on ebay. It turns out that a lot of what she claimed just plain was not true. And then what about her experience, mayor of a small town. Ethic investigations in the Statehouse ("Troopergate"). The McCain campaign kept playing catch up with her on various issues.
I'm actually sympathetic to Palin. The book claims that the McCain campaign only spent a couple days checking her out. They are not looking for somebody who is spotless, nobody is. They just want to find all the warts, freckles, and wrinkles so they can develop a strategy for dealing with them. I don't think she understood just how closely the microscope is that she would be under. So, the McCain campaign kind of threw her under the bus and she had to fend for herself. I also don't think she understood how grueling a campaign is with every minute scheduled and an army of press ready to jump on you if you make a mistake.
She also just plain wasn't ready. She still gets mad at Katie Couric for asking such "unfair" questions like "What newspapers do you read?" She is a great communicator. I don't think we have heard the last of her. Whether it is more gaffes like the whole "death panel" thing or if she uses her charisma in a positive manner is an open question at this point.
Palin was a bold gamble for McCain and it could have paid off. The country was ready for a change and they got one. We'll see how that works out.
Anyway, the book explains all the ins and outs of the campaign. It is very sympathetic to Obama. Cool, bright, and capable, yet unexperienced. McCain the principled, fly by the seat of the pants fighter pilot who wouldn't go down without a fight.
This is a great book. If you found the last election fascinating, I recommend it