“Game Change,” the book on the presidential race of 2008 that is all the current rage, manages at once to disconcert, entertain and comfort.
I got it after the authors, Mark Halperin and John Heinemann, made an underwhelming appearance Wednesday at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock.
I read in an afternoon and evening, because it kept me turning the page. The book is a darned sight more engaging than was the lecture.
The book disconcerts because, like those best-sellers of Bob Woodward, it presumes to recreate lengthy quotes from private conversations from months before, based on “background” interviews in which the authors get to use the information without attributing it.
For example: You have paragraph after paragraph of extended detailed quotes from Hillary Clinton and pollster Mark Penn
from a conversation they are said to have had to conduct a post-mortem of Hillary's failed bid.
If it was just the two of them, then the one who didn't relate the conversation knows that it was the other who did. So why not go ahead and identify the source?
Even so, how could either of them recall the conversation with so much certain detail that the authors could be confident of the accuracy of the extended phrases they put inside quotation marks?
Another time, the authors have cranky John McCain dropping the “F bomb” to his wife Cindy 11 times, one after the other, because she had just interrupted him. How do we know he said that four-letter word precisely 11 times consecutively? Might it have been nine, or 13? Who was counting?
The book entertains because of the insider hilarity that probably is mostly true.
McCain seems to be a piece of work. He sits around in boxers and a dress shirt. He doesn't want to practice for the debates because he says he knows everythimg he needs to know. When his aides finally force him into rehearsal and ask him if he knows the difference between gay marriage and a civil union, McCain replies, “I don't give a (bleep).”
Finally, the book comforts because it shows the discerning reader that the American voter made the right decision.
Barack Obama is the only character in these 440 pages who is consistently sane and calm.
On the afternoon of his first debate with McCain in Oxford, Miss., Obama's close friend Valerie Jarrett is visibly nervous. Obama puts his hand on her shoulder and says, “I got this.” And he does mostly because he has been studying and McCain has been saying he doesn't give a bleep.
Hillary Clinton is described as contemptuous of Iowans, nearly as profane as McCain and wholly unable to control her husband.
Bill goes rogue. He gets so mad that he is being accused of playing a race card against Obama that he defies the specific instructions of Hillary's campaign not to go to South Carolina.
Once there, he gets asked by a television reporter about Obama and, after escaping with an appropriately banal response, turns back to the camera, red-faced, and goes off on Obama in altogether too revealing and discomfiting fit of rage.
Sarah Palin is said to suffer what sounds like a nervous breakdown as she prepares for her debate with Biden and can't remember the answers to such basic questions as how Korea came to be divided into north and south. She quits eating and sleeping, goes catatonic and buries her head amid hundreds of five-by-seven index cards.
The book is PG-13, at least, for language and for the part about how Hillary's campaign people were convinced Bill was still tomcatting.
To sum up, the book offers this quote from Obama, reportedly speaking to an aide: “This (bleep) would be interesting if we weren't in the middle of it.”