Voracious readers often read several books at the same time, but not me. I have never been voracious. Several days ago, however, I had a strong urge to read three books that were on my reading table:
- Game Change, a play-by-play account of the 2008 presidential election;
- The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand’s precursor to Atlas Shrugged; and
- Conservative Victory, Sean Hannity’s prescription for defeating the Obama agenda.
Because I couldn’t pick which book to read first, I started with all three and would occasionally switch from one to the other to the other. That lasted only for a short time because the Hannity book simply wasn’t as interesting. Then I went back and forth from Game Change and The Fountainhead for about 250 pages each. At that point, although The Fountainhead remained absorbing, I couldn’t set Game Change aside. As a political junkie, I love reading about the backroom political process more than I enjoy the substantive issues of government, and Game Change is as good as it gets in describing the process.
Game Change reminds me of a book that I read as a kid, The Making of a President, 1960 by Teddy White. The White book described the 1960 presidential contest between Nixon and Kennedy. Game Change, which was written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, describes the 2008 presidential campaign. In the Authors’ Note, Heilemann and Halperin concede that Game Change would not be the definitive book on the 2008 election because they lacked distance and perspective, but their claimed objective was to occupy that useful place between history and journalism. Based on over 300 interviews with virtually all of the players, the authors have clearly achieved their objective.
As a conservative partisan, I have only one complaint about the book – namely, it focuses on the Democratic primaries (and caucuses) and gives short shrift to the Republican primaries. Game Change starts with the Democratic primaries and doesn’t get to the Republican primaries until Page 271 in a 436-page book. The Authors’ Note explains that the focus was on Obama, Clinton, Edwards, and McCain (and their spouses) because, in the authors’ opinion, those were the only candidates with a reasonable chance of winning. Serious Republican contenders Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani were relegated to the also-ran category that included one-and-done Democrats like Dodd, Biden, and Richardson.
Aside from the short shrift given to the Republican primaries, I think the authors played it straight. Their portrayals of Obama, Clinton, and McCain are so balanced that I have no idea who the authors voted for. Furthermore, I think that reading this book would change very few votes. McCain voters would not be less likely or more likely to vote for him, and the same would apply to Obama and Clinton voters. (The one exception would be John and Elizabeth Edwards. No one reading this book would ever vote for John Edwards; nor would anyone buy a book written by Elizabeth Edwards.) But the book certainly changes a reader’s depth of understanding. After reading this book, I know so much more about the candidates (and their spouses).
What do I know now that I didn’t know then?
- John McCain, who was a bad student at Annapolis, is a reckless person who makes decisions based on his gut, whereas Obama and Clinton, who were excellent students, continually demanded comprehensive information and then made decisions based on their evaluation of all the information.
- McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate was an example of risky, gut-based behavior. For several weeks, McCain was planning to pick qualified, liberal senator Joe Lieberman, but that pick was derailed shortly before the planned announcement. With only a week to select a replacement, McCain reacted by selecting Palin, and because Palin hadn’t even been on his short-list, she received only a five-day vetting. When the chief vetter concluded that Palin was, “high risk, high reward,” McCain responded that the vetter shouldn’t have phrased it that way because McCain always loved to gamble.
- Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton have a close relationship. Although the book does not discuss whether this couple has a loving relationship, it is clear that the Clintons are political partners who work closely together and have a strong emotional connection.
- The mainstream press has a gentlemen’s agreement to ignore the sex lives of presidential candidates and their spouses. Apparently there was strong evidence that John and Cindy McCain had been having extramarital affairs for years, with John living in D.C. and Cindy living in Arizona. And the press was fully aware of John Edwards’ infidelity for months before The National Inquirer broke the story. I think Americans have a right to know this stuff, and the press is failing to fulfill its constitutional responsibility.
- Many people involved in the campaigns knew that John Edwards was, at best, an extremely weak potential president, and, at worst, a complete fraud. Inexplicably, the mainstream media refused to play a role in bringing Edwards down (did they think this would make them more unpopular?), with the result that Edwards was free to attempt to make a post-Iowa deal with Obama for Edwards to be either Vice-President or Attorney General.
- The book suggests that Elizabeth Edwards is a complete fraud, too, but I am reserving judgment because I saw her interviewed on Larry King a couple of months ago and she seemed to be very sympathetic. In fact, I remember her specifically challenging things that were written in this book. I wish I could watch that King interview again now after reading the book.
- The Camelot/Kennedy characterization for Obama is correct – i.e., he is a smart, hard-working politician like John Kennedy who waxes poetic to win the romantics and the media, but who practices politics with cold calculation and an iron fist.
- Obama is not a religious person. Instead he turned to religion as part of his push for social justice. Thus, Reverend Wright was not a spiritual mentor, but rather a political bedfellow. Wright’s liberation theology was acceptable to Obama until he needed to go more mainstream. Jettisoning Wright was no big deal for Obama, especially since Michelle never like the guy who baptized their children.
- The media’s favorable treatment of Obama incensed both Clinton and McCain, but there was nothing they could do about it.
- Clinton and McClain like and respected each other and would have loved to run against each other.
- Raising money is perceived as crucial to running a viable campaign. While McCain and Clinton abhorred having to solicit and struggled with it, Obama was naturally gifted and handled it as just another part of campaigning. Part of this distinction is due to Obama mania, which made money flow almost effortlessly into Obama’s coffers, whereas Clinton and McCain had to earn their money the old-fashioned way – i.e., selling a piece of themselves to donors.
- Clinton took her full-term Senate pledge seriously; Obama did not.
The authors loved using big words, many of which I had never encountered before. While reading the book, I often wasn’t near a dictionary and had to move on without knowing what the authors meant. One word that I saw multiple times was “cipher.” Various people characterized Obama or Edwards to be ciphers. I eventually looked up the word and discovered it meant “lightweight.” I wonder why the authors didn’t use the word “lightweight.” I would be surprised if the person making the characterization actually used the term “cipher.”
Early in this review, I suggested that reading Game Change was unlikely to change many votes. Did it change mine? No, I voted for Obama and would do so again. My rationale was that McCain behaved erratically during the campaign, not only by picking Palin, but also by proposing a gas-tax moratorium and suspending his campaign to address the financial crisis, but then doing nothing to address it. By way of contrast, Obama was steady and analytical. Obama is like a calculating athlete who works hard to put himself in the best position to succeed, whereas McCain doesn’t put a lot of stock into preparation and instead excels at playing the game. McCain has been able to succeed in life because of his common sense, good judgment, and the force of his personality.
I think McCain could have been a very effective president at a different time, but America wanted more change than McCain could deliver. After eight years of Bush-43, the American Left had become so cynical that no Republican could bring us together as a country. We had to give the Left a chance to rule. That’s how America works – the 2nd-string quarterback is always the most popular player on the team; the savior who can change everything. Well, Obama and the Left are having their chance, and this will be followed by Ronald Reagan’s quintessential question to America – are you better off than you were four years ago? The jury is still out on that, but I expect a prompt return to America’s center of gravity – the center-right.