Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Game Change -- we can believe in


For some reason I was skeptical about John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's book, Game Change... boy, was I wrong about that one.

I should say at the outset, that Game Change is a little like crack for political junkies. You will do nothing else for a couple of days, other than sit in your apartment, alone with your 448 pages of drug-like bliss, and ingest the words. You will not want to talk to people. You will not want to go out at night. You will only want to stay home and read. (I was up with it well past my bedtime.)

And you will be extremely distraught when it's over. You need your fix!

I'm going to avoid giving away too much. And, in a way, a lot of the ace material was in Heilemann and Halperin's excerpt about John Edwards in New York magazine a couple of weeks ago.... But there is so much more!

And there are three observations I would like to make:

1) I believe only about 80 percent of this stuff is exactly the way it happened.

It's sort of remarkable that given how much of the book was anonymously sourced, how little these two have had to retract. (Has there been anything?) Clearly, this is mostly the way it went down. But there's a reason why some of the little things could be wrong and not have been challenged.

If, say, Elizabeth Edwards had a quibble with only one or two little facts, she would look truly ridiculous disputing them when the vast majority of the narrative is true and so negative.

2) One of the criticisms I've heard of the book is that it's inside baseball -- there's no broader context.


I mean, come on. Everybody was paying attention to this race. It was the most frustrating, exciting, drawn out damned race in American political history! True, if you didn't know any of the scandals that enveloped the 2008 political season -- from "sniper fire" to "bittergate" to the views of Russia from Alaska -- you might be at a loss, and maybe this book isn't for you. But H&H would have had to be completely meshuggenah to describe the campaign from soup to nuts.

No -- these guys got the narrative right.

3) As much as I love Obama, I accept the fact that there are reasons he's the only one coming out of this book smelling like a rose.

Truly, everybody looks bad in this book. And by everybody, I mean everybody. Some come out looking worse than others (the Edwardses probably come out looking the worst) but Bill, Hillary, McCain and Palin all look like the most dysfunctional people you'd ever want to cross paths with. And most of the staffs look pretty bad, too. (Mark Penn comes across as a true blue idiot.)

At times, it's a study in contrasts: Bill looks so much worse than Hillary, for instance. And Steve Schmidt, McCain's political guru, actually comes across decently. (Not that I agree with any of his positions on anything -- but he looks at least like a smart, organized guy who knows what he's doing.)

But the only two people who look semi-normal at the end of this twisted saga are Barack and Michelle Obama.

That didn't happen by accident.

I'm sure that the Obamas are marvelous people. I truly love them. But, my friend Robert George pointed out something important: Almost everybody else has a long history in Washington. And every single one of the principles (except the Palins) has run a national campaign before.

Being in politics that long (and at that level) means that you create enemies. There are plenty of people who have known the Clintons, the Edwardses and the McCains a long time and wanted to take swipes at them. Not so for the Obamas.

Plus, you can be damned sure that there were plenty of sources in the Obama camp.

But as I said: 80 percent true. Enjoy -- just don't OD.