Game Change: The EW Review

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Game Change, but it wasn’t this: a rollicking, profane, funny, incredibly detailed account of the 2008 campaign. Here’s my review:

Journalists, pundits, and bloggers have all chewed over the 2008 presidential campaign so thoroughly, so relentlessly, that there would seem to be little meat left on the bone. But two veteran political reporters – New York magazine’s John Heilemann and Time’s Mark Halperin — have found plenty of fresh dish, and they’ve served it up in Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.

What makes their book different from others, and so riveting, is the depth of their material–some of it obtained the old-fashioned way, through dogged investigative reporting, and some of it courtesy of their innumerable sources, such as Patti Solis Doyle, Hillary Clinton’s onetime campaign manager. But don’t be fooled: This is no dry history. In fact, in places it reads less like a campaign memoir than like a Jackie Collins novel, packed with seamy details about extramarital sex and screaming arguments. Its pages brim with scandalous tidbits: John Edwards refuses to take responsibility for Rielle Hunter, demanding furiously of a young aide, “Why didn’t you come to me like a  f—-ing man and tell me to stop f—ing her?” Elizabeth Edwards, furious at her husband’s infidelity, dramatically rips open her shirt in an airport, and calls a staffer in the middle of the night: “Get me out of here! I’m not campaigning for this a–hole another day!” John McCain alternately screams obscenities at his wife, Cindy, and refuses to take any interest in the nuts and bolts of his campaign: “He really just didn’t give a s—. The details made his head hurt.” Barack Obama sometimes comes off as moody and difficult, at times almost undone by his cocky self-assurance. “I’m LeBron, baby,” he once told a reporter. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Interestingly, the one person you’d expect would fare poorly here–vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin–gets a pass. Though the authors duly report that “some in the upper echelons of McCainworld began to believe that Palin was unfit for higher office,” they say bluntly that “the McCain people did fail [her]…. They amassed polling points and dollars off her fiery charisma, and then left her to burn up in the inferno of public opinion.”

Game Change isn’t perfect. The authors obviously have sources in pretty high places (a couple of conversations between the Clintons are recounted verbatim, including a fascinating one on a beach in Anguilla), but without a bibliography, it’s hard to identify them all. (That said, there are a lot more people on the record here than in, say, a Bob Woodward book.) The tone can shift, a little disconcertingly, from elegant description to profanity-laced staccato in the space of a line or two (people are constantly going rips— or apes—. There’s a lot of s— in Game Change). And Heilemann and Halperin are guilty of some pretty mean-spirited caricature, even if it is dead-on. Clinton is “resplendent in fire engine red and wearing a rictus grin” at one event; Rudy Giuliani, when challenged, “would bare his cartoonishly big teeth.” But these are pretty minor quibbles. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the cutthroat backroom hows and whys of a presidential campaign — especially this presidential campaign, filled as it was with scene-stealing characters and bad behavior, and memorable for all kinds of reasons that had nothing to do with Obama’s skin color and everything to do with his impeccably run grassroots organization. And it doesn’t hurt that Game Change reads more bodice-ripper than Beltway. A-


Comments (19 total) Add your comment
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  • crispy

    We all lived thru the misery of that campaign for more than a year. Why would anyone want to read about it?

    • MultiPass

      Because it makes even Jersey Shore seem boring and normal.

  • wakeforce

    aah, crispy. Maybe you’re suffering from a head cold! don’t you know this book will sell like hotcakes?

  • Greg Birk

    Did Tina Jordan even READ the book? She says that Palin gets a pass in this book???

    The book says that Palin’s behavior was so erratic that McCain officials had to ponder whether she was mentally unstable, and says “she would shut down in a catatonic stupor ahead of interviews.” ‘According to the book, it was then that Steve Schmidt, Republican campaign chief, turned to the experts he had recruited and said: ‘You guys have a lot of work to do. She doesn’t know anything.’The book says that as she tried to cram that her mental state began to falter. She wasn’t eating much.

    While being drilled for upcoming interviews, ‘she would routinely shut down – chin on her chest, arms folded, eyes cast to the floor, speechless and motionless, lost in what those around her described as a kind of catatonic stupor’

    ‘As they were about to set off to meet Couric, Palin announced “I hate this makeup” -smearing it off her face, messing up her hair, complaining she looked fat,’ the book says.

    According to the book, Mr Schmidt and Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, arrived at Ms Palin’s hotel room in Philadelphia and ‘were appalled by the scene they found’.

    ‘The room was hot and claustrophobic; the shades were drawn. The place was full of half-eaten hotel food and stank of mouldering french fries.

    ‘Palin, looking dazed, was surrounded, as usual, by stacks and stacks of index cards.’

    According to the book, the camp was ready to ‘downgrade’ vice presidential candidate Ms Palin’s responsibilities in the event of a victory, reducing her role ‘to the largely ceremonial role that pre-modern vice presidents inhabited.’

    • Dave H

      That’s awsome lol!! I can’t wait to read this book to see how much of a mental patient she really is.

  • jill rey

    Sarah Palin comes across worse than anybody in the entire book. She is described as mentally unstable, reduced to a catatonic state before interviews, and that the McCain camp apparently was shocked at how little she knew. There are many examples given. I am confused on why this review says that Palin gets off easy when she comes out looking worse than anyone in the book by far… the excerpts are all over the internet.

  • jill rey

    Sarah Palin comes across worse than anybody in the entire book. She is described as mentally unstable, reduced to a catatonic state before interviews, and that the McCain camp apparently was shocked at how little she knew. There are many examples given. I am confused on why this review says that Palin gets off easy when she comes out looking worse than anyone in the book by far… the excerpts are all over the internet.

  • P Howe

    Sarah Palin did not get a pass in this book. The book says that Steve Schmidt, Republican campaign chief, told the experts he had recruited to tutor Palin and said: ‘You guys have a lot of work to do. She doesn’t know anything.’ Also, according to the book, McCain’s camp was ready to ‘downgrade’ vice presidential candidate Palin’s responsibilities in the event of a victory, reducing her role ‘to the largely ceremonial role that pre-modern vice presidents inhabited.’ This book makes it even clearer that Sarah Palin was not qualified to be a candidate for Vice President of the U.S.

  • jmag

    I agree; I also found that part of the review odd. McCain’s campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, went on the record to say she has problems with lying and still does. I don’t think that makes her look good.

    All this stuff that has come out a year after the elections makes me wonder what the heck is the mainstream media doing?! They are absolutely useless! I mean the fact that the National Enquirer broke the John Edward affair story tells you right there that the media in this country are all dumb lemmings.

    • Pete

      The media has been reduced to regurgitating press releases and talking points handed to them by the campaigns. There is no journalism, only spin.

    • Marc

      It’s called history, something you apparently know or care little about.

  • suzanne

    Did Tina Jordan actually read this book before reviewing it? Given her Sarah Palin ‘given a pass’ comment, I’d guess Tina just skimmed the book.

  • Dave H

    I’m psyched to read this, we all knew she was a train wreck but to be able to get some of the inside stories… this is too good hehe.

    • DollieQuinn

      I agree!! I have called that woman a train wreck from day 1. Unless this book yhay I must read tells me, I swear I will never know what I have been asking from jump!! Who in the sam hell picked her as a canidate in the first place??? The party?? When she came out there John looked totally shocked, I just know he didn’t! What do you think??

  • Big D

    Wow, the review alone had me planning to read this book. Reading about how Palin is described in the book has me ready to pick it up immediately. These descriptions of Palin make her sound exactly unprepared and ill-suited for national office as I always believed her to be.

  • K. Heys

    As far as Palin is concerned, I felt a bit sorry for her. She was clearly in over her head. They did not do their homework before picking her and they paid for it. She was and is not up to higher office. The fact that she had to resign as Governor is testimony to her poor judgment and lack of honesty.

  • K. Heys

    I wanted to add that this was a great book!

  • shaun

    On The Mantle, Marianna Gurtovnik did a two-part review focusing on the two main women in the race, Clinton and Palin. While she does recognize the over-reliance on anonymous sources, what makes her takes unique is the female-focused perspective. They’re worth checking out.

    Here is her part 1 on Clinton, at least – http://www.mantlethought.org/content/hillary-clintons-race-lifetime

  • tresorparis

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