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Tom Alderman

Tom Alderman

Posted: February 10, 2010 02:07 PM

Game Change - a Cautionary Tale About Gabby Staff and Paranoid Presidential Candidates

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By now you've probably heard about the deliciously juicy bits to be found in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's revealing book Game Change, Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime: how Cindy and John McCain fought a lot in front of staff, the megalomaniacal ineptitude of John Edwards, the fuzzy-wuzzy Elizabeth Edwards as the shrew from hell, Sarah Palin's insufficient experience and her 'O'Biden' problem, Joe's un-disciplined mouth and Illinois' Sen. Obama as Star Trek's Mr. Spock. It's all here, and more, reported with absorbing detail in the tradition first set down by Theodore White's template-setting history, The Making of a President, 1960. If White's book was the Walt Disney version of a campaign, Game Change is the Jerry Bruckheimer edition - and a significant game-changer in the way today's journalists write campaign histories.

This is veneer-stripped reporting like you've never seen from a major publisher. You'll actually be in the bathroom with Guiliani, McCain and Huckabee, lined up at their respective urinals, pissing and dissing on Mitt Romney before a GOP primary debate. "He's a f***king phony asshole," says McCain just as Romney walks in. Yowza.

Speaking of f**k, it's hard to imagine White, or any campaign best seller, reporting the prodigious profusion of the expletive - and its variations - coming from the mouths of our would-be leaders of the free world. In HarperAudio's unabridged edition, the outcry is driven home with great clarity by actor Dennis Boutsakaris, whose first-class narration makes the audiobook a battery burner.

We all know presidential campaigns are chaotic, often nasty affairs propelled by jumbo egos, combative staffs and unpredictable events - such as a recession. Who knew they are also high school clique fights complete with sulking, petty and often clueless candidates fretting about 'who likes me' and 'who doesn't?' And the paranoia - oh the paranoia. The boogie man is the big, bad bully - the MEDIA! Obama, Clinton, McCain and Edwards endlessly whine that "The press is out to get me," "They hate me," "How could they do this? " and their most frequent yowl, "They're not fair." Duh.

The superlative reviews for this book - "spellbinding," "riveting," "explosive" - all true. For political junkies and cautious historians, Game Change is outstanding. Heilemann and Halperin know how to drive the narrative with flash and flair. The vice-presidential vetting process is described as "an investigative cavity search,"' Cindy McCain delivers "taught Stepford smiles," On-air pundits are "the flying monkeys of talk radio," and the media viewed Palin as "...a hick on a high wire."

Perhaps the biggest lesson from Game Change is for all now and future candidates: BEWARE OF STAFF! A losing staff is a blabby staff, eager to dish dirt and dodge responsibility. While Heilemann and Halperin conducted hundreds of interviews for this book, you can bet the naughty bits were mostly supplied by disgruntled staffers - at ALL levels. So candidates, take note: winning campaigns are about who votes for you, losing ones are about who works for you.