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CBR4 #27: Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

I know, people. I know. At this point I am so far behind I can never possibly catch up. But doesn't mean I shouldn't put forth SOME effort while I have the chance. Let's just pretend that I don't have 35+ books sitting un-reviewed and focus on one book at a time.

I hadn't wanted to read Game Change for a while. I mostly find political rhetoric exhausting and infuriating. I'm not especially good at political conversations, since I'm not very good at pulling out well-sourced facts in the face of (what I consider to be) woeful misinformation. I usually end up sputtering "Well I read somewhere that that's not true!" and then eventually getting so angry and frustrated that I have to give up. My brain contains a LOT of information (you should see me play Jeopardy) but knowing exactly where it came from isn't a strong point. And if you're going to be discussing things of this level of importance, you should be able to source your facts. The other problem is that I--like most people, probably--don't necessarily fall neatly into a single category. Mostly I'm a pretty liberal Democrat, but there are a few issues where my conservative Republican upbringing rears its head. What I'm saying basically is that when it comes to politics I am often confused and conflicted.

The interesting thing about Game Change is that it seems the politicians involved can be just as confused and conflicted.

The book tells the story of the 2008 presidential primaries and election from an insider's perspective. It's mostly the story of the struggle between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, and details both the campaign itself and also how both candidates made the decision to run. This is a warts-and-all portrayal, though Obama does come off slightly better than anyone else depicted. His flaws are portrayed as being occasional arrogance, consistent cockiness, quite a bit of naivete. Hilary is shown as a bit more cynical, coming at things from the perspective of a long-time Washington insider and part of the "Clinton Dynasty". Both have to try and decide their reasons for running, how they want to proceed with their campaigns, what strategies to employ, how far to go, and how their fight will effect the party as a whole.

The second part of book continues to follow Obama's presidential campaign, and also brings in McCain's. The choice of running mates, the decisions on which strategies to pursue, and the election itself are all closely followed. The book ends by showing President Obama convincing Hilary Clinton to come aboard as Secretary of State.

On the whole, this book is intellectually interesting as far as the structure and nature of politics goes. The idea that there are so many people involved in an undertaking of this type (and that so many of them hate each other and are embroiled in constant power struggles) is mind-boggling. The choices that have to be made can have unforeseen effects, and every word must be carefully checked (the problems on this front with both Joe Biden and Bill Clinton are obvious.)

I have to admit, though, that my favorite part was the more gossipy end of the spectrum. What was the deal with John Edwards and his loony mistress? How do the Clintons get along and was Bill really subconsciously sabotaging Hilary's campaign? Why did McCain choose Sarah Palin as his running mate? The insider's view of the personalities involved was what really kept me reading the book. I found myself feeling more admiration for Hilary Clinton and more sympathy for Sarah Palin than I'd expected. It's politics on a grand scale, but when it comes right down to it, it's all personalities.

I'd recommend this to anyone who is interested in the guts of a national political campaign, or in any of the people involved in this one. It's not a particularly flattering account of anyone involved (Obama comes out slightly better than the rest, but he takes his lumps, too) but it has a feeling of honesty.


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