Book Report: “Game Change”

I just finished reading “Game Change” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.  The authors followed Campaign 2008 from the Democratic primary to the Republican primary to the general election.  It was a fascinating, easy read, being fodder for those like me who found the last Presidential run-up and election a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.  To revisit that campaign was riveting.

Of the three main parts, I found the story of the Democratic primary to be the most exciting and meaty.  To chronologically follow the paths of Obama, Clinton and Edwards was as good a plot as any, if not better than any fictional story.  Age, experience and just plain old living do count for some valid intuition and I found a surprising similarity for my ups and downs with those of Obama during the primary.  I learned that when I was frustrated that Obama was not fighting back hard enough against Hillary, he was pretty damn unhappy also.

My sense that Hillary wanted the Presidency more than anything was corroborated, although her underlying humanity was intact, just not usually in gear, being subservient to her ambition and ingrown, political experience of nasty, divisive and polarizing tactics.  But that was the of world of Hillary, who matured politically in the 1990’s when dog-eat-dog politics and partisanship ruled the day.  Furthermore, her campaign never was quite organized with a mission or a philosophy other than to have Hillary occupy the White House.  At least, that is the message that came across to the public.   Finally, the husband was the biggest yoke around her neck, stepping (usually uninvited) into the fray and winding up defending himself rather than promoting his wife.  All in all, Hillary’s humanity, incredible intelligence and undying work ethic shone through the primary and left her with a damn good record.

I have nothing to say about John Edwards.  His narcissism really got the better of him and he was a sleaze ball just waiting to decompensate.  And so he did.

The Republican primary coverage in the book was , well, boring, to me.  Perhaps that is because the GOP contenders were boring.  In the end, McCain pulled out the primary victory, with no money, nor a popular public reception as he was following the disastrous terms of “W”, and not really engaged in the problems of today.  His mantra of patriotism went just so far in offering solutions to the financial meltdown; in fact, his constant assurance of “this country is great” had no bearing to the reality of what ails us, as if to admit our issues of the day meant we were not patriotic or great.   He tried to skim over our current shortcomings by reverting back to his unswaying patriotism.  He was out of touch with our serious problems and believed that to acknowledge any crises the United States may be having was to deny his great love of our country.  I have news for McCain: unless he faced the conundrums, admitted to the issues that were taking us down, there could be no solutions.  Whether or not this denial was a function of age, a political comfort zone based on the past or due to a general laziness on his part, McCain was no competition for Obama, a man who zeroed in on our past and current problems, issues that might spell doom for our country.  To tackle these problems would require huge physical stamina and mental acuity.  Certainly Obama embodied those traits, but McCain was not persuasive in his actions, ideas and originality to convince the country that he too could handle what lied ahead.

To this dangerous refusal of McCain to face up to reality, add his campaign’s total lack of organization, message and most importantly, money.  The final nail in the coffin was his nomination of Sarah Palin to fill the VP slot.  Oh sure — in the beginning she was a real-go-getter, rousing crowds and donors alike.  Then came the nuts and bolts part of the run, the public interviews, and she failed miserably.  Of course this reflected very badly on McCain’s vetting process (practically nonexistent) and choice of such a novice to be his running mate.

Additionally, I do think that Palin is somewhat mentally unbalanced and unstable.  Her barracuda mien was renowned, going all the way back to her performance on her high school basketball team.  However, tenacity can go only so far without the intellectual capacity and willingness to bone-up on current issues on the table.  Palin thought her bravado, good looks and cut-throat manner would carry the day.  Go on: ask Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric if that turned out to be true.  Finally, right after meeting with McCain in Arizona and accepting the chance to run with him, Steve Schmidt mentioned to her that she seemed so calm, not nervous at all.  Palin responded, “It’s God’s plan.”  This brings back shades of George W.’s surrender to Katrina when he said that it was in God’s hands.  Both Palin and Bush relied on some almighty entity to explain away their courses of actions, although the former used this brown bag of an explanation to address a supposedly good thing that was happening to her while W. used it to remove any personal responsibility from the horrendous aftermath of Katrina.  Talk about surrendering one’s brains and work ethic to an amorphous icon that served mainly to enable these two phonies from dealing with reality.  They erroneously thought that by invoking the Deity they would be off the hook.  Stupidity and laziness would no longer suffice.

And thank Heavens for that.  At the end of the book, Obama and Clinton reconcile over the position of Secretary of State.  Hillary really did not want the job, and she and Obama had a real, honest heart-to-heart talk on the phone.  She had a huge campaign debt to pay off, she was exhausted from the campaign and she admitted to Obama that Bill would always be there to muck up things.  Obama knew that it would take at least two years to right this country from the financial mess in which it found itself.  He knew that Hillary had the brains, temperament and job dedication to be a successful ambassador as Secretary of State.  He trusted (rightly so) her to take care of the foreign policy so he could dedicate himself to domestic policy. When she finally consented, their reconciliation was complete, both having bared their humanity to each other and, as a result of their naked honesty, both getting what they wanted.  Our country was the real winner.

“Game Change” is a good read.  I found that after 1 1/2 years in office, President Obama still embodies those great principles that he ran on.  Americans tend to be very short-sighted and want what they want NOW.  Sorry.  This man’s legacy will have to wait a good, long while to gel.  But the man is on the right track and my patience for what he does next is only outweighed by my trust and optimism.  Barack Obama is a game-changer.


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One Response to “Book Report: “Game Change””

  1. NatalieR Says:

    I want to buy two things: A kindle and this book, Game Change, among so many others. Great review.

    Just a thought that has NOTHING to do with “Game Change” but has to do with a great author. One of my favorite authors and raconteurs, Christopher Hitchens, was just diagnosed with esophageal cancer no doubt due to his always riding in the fast lane of excessive — VERY excessive — drinking, smoking and eating. He could not quit doing any of those things. If I knew him I would not say I told you so but I surely thought it so. That he has cancer does NOT surprise me one bit but just illuminates the hold that addiction be it drinking, smoking, eating or sex is so profound and tightly wound into the synapses of our brain making it nearly impossible to self correct. Yet, some do. I hope he will.

    He is one of THE most brilliant men and authors I have ever listened to or read. His larger than life mind is like a Venus Flytrap corralling so much knowledge it is a wonder his head did not explode. I am hoping that the fates and chemo will arrest the cancer in time for him to lead a semi clean life so someone on whom I rely to morph my opinions does not leave this earth before his time and mine!

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