Monday, February 21, 2011

A President's Day Book Review: Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime  (audiobook)
by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
14.75 hours 
Narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris

"This shit would be really interesting if we weren't in the middle of it." 
 Barack Obama, September 2008 

I'm a bit of a political junkie. I find the personalities and the inner workings of politics fascinating, even though the closest I've ever come to being on the inside of any political campaign was a) when The Husband was running for Township Commissioner and b) when we helped out Bill Clinton's '92 campaign one evening by stuffing envelopes. 

(While doing so, our group gathered 'round the television - yes, back in the day people actually did such a thing as gather 'round the television for must-see-TV - to watch the '92-'93 season premiere of "Murphy Brown." Political junkies like myself will recall that this episode was historic: titled "You Say Potatoe, I Say Potato," it was in response to Dan Quayle's remarks on the fictitious Murphy choosing to have a baby as a single mother.  Ah, yes, the early '90s.  Those were the days.)

Nearly 20 years later, both Clintons are still around and featured prominently (along with Obama, Edwards, McCain, and Palin) in Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's book that gives an eye-opening and detailed look at the 2008 presidential election campaign.

If any presidential campaign was made for political junkies, this one was it. 

But here's the thing:  if you are into this stuff, regardless of who you supported or what party you affiliate with, chances are you've probably read other such chronicles about the 2008 campaign or heard tidbits from the book in various news clips.

Among the books I read in 2010 (and very much liked) were David Plouffe's The Audacity to Win  and Anne Kornblut's Notes from a Cracked Ceiling  (Links take you to my reviews.) That meant that, while I really liked Game Change, I had already read or heard of many of the more notable instances. 

That doesn't mean Game Change wasn't without its juicy moments. There are certainly enough of those. It's just different than the Plouffe or Kornblut books because Game Change encompasses all the major players, rather than focusing in on just one or a few. (Although it did seem like Obama and Hillary got a bit more ink than McCain and Palin ... not like I'm complaining about that.)

With all of them (with the exception of Palin), the first thing I noticed about each one of the candidates was their language. Now, I'm not a prude and I've certainly been known to drop a well-placed f-bomb on several an occasion. But for all the brou-ha-ha that was made about Joe Biden's "big fucking deal" comment, that practically pales in comparison to what Obama, Hillary, Edwards, and McCain (especially McCain) seem to utter on an hourly basis. Yeah, I know the man should have been more ... I don't know, less Joe? given a live mike, but he who lives in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and all that.

So, suffice it to say that he word fuck is used quite often in this book and if that's offensive to you, you'll probably want to refrain from reading this one. And if you're listening on audio, as I was, it's probably not the best audio to have playing in the car as a quick political science lesson for the younger set.

It is, however, a lesson in a look into the world of political campaigning on the presidential scale.
Having read the Plouffe book, there wasn't much about Obama that was revealed in Game Change that I didn't know or that was surprising.  But there were some intriguing revelations (spoilers ahead!) about the other characters, such as:
  • Hillary Clinton forming a covert Presidential transition team even before the Iowa primaries were over.
  • Chelsea Clinton was involved in more strategy and decision making with her mother's campaign than I realized.
  • Elizabeth Edwards berating John's campaign staff, even telling them at one point that until they (John and Elizabeth) had their new health insurance, then nobody was getting health insurance.
  • Elizabeth Edwards regularly calling John a monster, and a fight between the couple in an airport that had her ripping off her blouse.
  • John Edwards's crowing, "They loooovvvvvvvvvvvvve  me!"  (I guess this isn't much of a surprise.)
  • McCain and staffers gleefully watching and laughing at a YouTube video of John Edwards preening over his hair, and playing the video over and over again
  • Sarah Palin's catatonic-like breakdown during debate preparations, sitting in a hotel with half-eaten meals strewn about and hundreds of index cards with facts written on them (like flash cards), and her handlers having to educate her on everything from the Spanish Civil War to the situation in Iraq, to who the various news personalities were and how to pronounce nuclear. 
Now, I know Game Change's critics say that the interviews and unnamed sources are disgruntled campaign employees and aides, and maybe they are and maybe they aren't.  Whatever.  The point is, most of these instances do sound somewhat plausible, don't they? 

As I mentioned, I listened to this on audio and loved the narration by Dennis Boutsikaris.  He has the perfect voice for this one - a wonderful combination of egomania, smugness, suspense, and drama that was so very much a part of the 2008 presidential campaign.  I really liked Boutsikaris's narration in Anita Shreve's All I Ever Wanted so I was glad to have the opportunity to listen to him again.  My only quibble with the narration was the mispronunciation of Malia Obama's name.  Bousikaris kept saying "MAHL-yuh" instead of "mah-LEE-uh" (of which I believe the latter is the correct version), and that kind of irked me.  But, that's only on a few occasions in the book so it is forgivable.  The audiobook definitely held my attention and was actually a great listen for me since the material was familiar. 

If you're a political junkie like me, Game Change offers a very good glimpse of the wild and crazy ride that was the 2008 presidential campaign and the various Mr. (and Mrs.) Toads that were driving the cars.  Just know that if you've read other similar books (like the ones by Plouffe or Kornblut), that you'll probably be in for some repetition here.  But if you haven't, then Game Change would be a good one to start with. 

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


nomadreader (Carrie) said...

I was rather obsessed with the 2008 election, as we were living in Iowa and part of the caucus madness. I eagerly devoured John Heilemann's columns in New York each week and thought he was one of the best political commentators working. I bought this for my Kindle but never got around to reading it. I will try to make time for it soon!

Booksnyc said...

Glad to hear this is good on audio - these are the types of books I like to listen to on my walk to work. I have been wanting to read Game Change since it came out - I found myself fascinated by the 2008 election!

Rose said...

Since Palin may run in 2012 this book is still very relevant . I'm listening to the audio book, and although he reads it very well, I too noticed his mangling of Malia's name anD he also kept referring to Caroline Kennedy as Carolyn.
This is pretty annoying since she's been in the public eye for no less than 50 years!

D. Boutsikaris said...

Yeah, I don't know how that pronunciation got past me. Usually we have a producer in the booth, but on this one, and these days more and more, it was just a recording engineer. Sometimes there's so many balls in the air and things slip apologies.

Besides that, thanks for the kind words..


D. Boutsikaris said...

Yeah, I don't know how that pronunciation got past me. Usually we have a producer in the booth, but on this one, and these days more and more, it was just a recording engineer. Sometimes there's so many balls in the air and things slip apologies.

Besides that, thanks for the kind words..


Melissa said...

Oh, wow ... Dennis! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Definitely a surprise to see this. Happens to the best of us. Keep up the great work and looking forward to seeing/hearing you again.

Rachel said...

this was a great review. Thanks a bunch!! I actually became interested in listening to the review of this book on Elaine Charles radio show the book report... ( thats the link to hear the show)...
But in addition to that your review was quite wonderful!! I heard the team is going to be writing another book for this election. I look forward to more and more!