A Journalist's Archive

Game Change
John Heilemann and Mark Alpern
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

Recently, every morning news program in the country was interviewing John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about their political tell-all book “Game Change.” The authors are political journalists who conducted hundreds of interviews to mine the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scene details of the 2008 presidential campaign. Based on the media coverage, I expected to find at least half the book devoted to trashing Sarah Palin. It’s not. Oh yes, she certainly gets bludgeoned by many “unnamed sources.” Obama, McCain, Edwards, and their spouses take hits too. But it’s Hillary Clinton who takes the biggest thumping in “Game Change”.

The authors’ political preference is clear; Obama is their man. Or perhaps it just seems that way because Heilemann and Halperin had an endless supply of Clinton “supporters” who were willing to stick a knife in her back when her coattails left them in the dust. Ah, a miffed campaign worker can dish-out dirt faster than a steam shovel! Sometimes it’s true, often it contains a partial truth, or it’s an outright lie. So one thing I want to see in a book that shreds political personalities are source notes. But “Game Change” has none.

Little things such as where, when, and under what circumstances a candidate made a statement are extremely important. And the authors provide tons of that, but it all seems rather questionable when the tattle-tales revealing the nasty bits are more concerned about protecting their own political future than officially adding their names to a list of people who have a beef against a previous presidential candidate. And the reconstructed conversation between Hillary and Bill as they were bobbing alone in the water off Anguilla reads like pure fantasy. Did the authors use a sea turtle as a source, or did Bill relate the tale? Either way, it sounds like fiction to me. (See page 80)  

Even so, I became engrossed in “Game Change” because it reveals the same “Jekyll and Hyde” personality complex in presidential candidates that I’ve witnessed in local politicians. That added some validity to the work. So it wasn’t shocking to read that the “F” word became an essential part of every presidential candidate’s vocabulary during the heat of battle. Nor did the vehement expressions of hatred toward same-party opponents, which usually took place behind closed doors, appear to be anything but typical politics. Searching for dirt, planting rumors, and exposing an opponent’s sexual infidelities seem to be part of the political milieu both locally and nationally.

Intermixed in their 436 page volume of political sod, the authors also give readers nuggets of political analysis. That’s how both men normally make their living, and their breakdown of Obama’s path to the White House is much more interesting than the “he said, she said” nonsense. In a nut shell: Clinton’s overwhelming sense of entitlement is what really did her in. Having an “ex-president” husband that couldn’t keep his mouth shut or fly zipped didn’t help either. But Hillary was so sure of her presidential victory that she ignored the “Kennedy Dynasty.” That was her biggest mistake. The Kennedy’s and the Clinton’s have always had an uneasy relationship, so Clinton’s bad-behavior provided a good excuse to back someone else, and Obama wasn’t sitting back waiting for their endorsement – he actively sought it.

But the book’s analysis of McCain offered nothing not already widely talked about in political circles. McCain’s outbursts on the campaign trail were already legendary. As for John Edwards, I wondered if Heilemann and Halperin felt compelled to include him in “Game Change” because his political life proves there’s no limit to a politician’s ego, or because it was such a “juicy” story.

In their “Author’s Note,” Heilemann and Halperin write, “despite wall-to-wall media coverage, much of the story behind the headlines has not been told. What was missing and might be of enduring value, we agreed, was an intimate portrait of the candidates and spouses…” Yet, when the Iowa primary returns were posted, Edwards knew he wouldn’t be moving to 3600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And so did everyone else, including the authors. So “St.Elizabeth’s” antics both on and off the campaign trail added little “enduring value” to our knowledge of 2008 political events; and it’s downright sad to read. By the way, “St. Elizabeth” is Edwards’ staffs’ name for his spouse – not mine.

Parts of this book are similar to the National Enquirer; a rag that’s fun to read but not to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, something tells me there’s a lot more than gossip in “Game Change” and it’s the passages that ring true that are so disturbing. This work did have an enduring affect on me, but I doubt it’s what the authors intended.  “Game Change” convinced me the current two-party system is irreparably broken.  That wasn’t the authors’ objective, but it’s exactly why I recommend reading “Game Change.”

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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