"We have a chance to bring the country together in a new majority"Barack Obama, Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 10, 2007

CNBCfix review, Game Change:
Was Barack Obama so great,
or everyone else just lousy?

          Posted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

Many people will read Game Change demanding, "tell me something I don't know."

They'll be disappointed.

If there's a surprise in this detailed examination of the 2008 presidential election by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, it's that the campaigns were actually a lot less interesting than perhaps many thought.

Heilemann and Halperin make it clear they're only interested in reporting. Theirs is not to question the superdelegate system, whether Florida and Michigan primaries should've been accepted, whether the TARP program should've passed, what the point of a political convention is if organizers won't allow it to decide a neck-and-neck race, whether the mainstream media was negligent on the John Edwards scandal, how Charlie Gibson could actually credit George Bush with having a "doctrine" ...

If there is a theme besides the coolness of Barack Obama, it is the purported widespread disdain for Bill Clinton within the Democratic Party and the government. Bill Clinton seems best described as high-maintenance — Tom Daschle, according to the authors, views him as "a narcissist on an epic scale."

The book is best regarded as a chronicle of the famous and nearly famous quotes. Its greatest revelation was that Sen. Harry Reid once said Barack Obama had "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Most of the others, you'll remember. A couple aren't in the book:

Barack Obama, 2002 anti-war rally: "I don't oppose all wars ... What I am opposed to is a dumb war."

Barack Obama, off stage prior to 2004 convention speech, to Chicago Tribune reporter: "I'm LeBron, baby, I can play on this level, I got some game."

Joe Biden, Jan. 31, 2007, New York Observer, on Obama: "The first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

David Geffen, Feb. 21, 2007, column by Maureen Dowd: “I don’t think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person ... (He's a) reckless guy ... who gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him ... the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things they genuinely believe in. Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling."

Barack Obama, April 26, 2007 Democratic debate in South Carolina, on his reaction to a terrorist attack: "Well, the first thing we'd have to do is make sure that we've got an effective emergency response..."

Hillary Clinton, Oct. 30, 2007, Democratic debate at Drexel University, to Tim Russert on Eliot Spitzer's plan for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants: "I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it ... You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha..."

Hillary Clinton supporter Bill Shaheen, Dec. 12, 2007, Washington Post interview, on Obama: "One of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use ...It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?' "

Barack Obama, Jan. 5, 2008, St. Anselm College, N.H., debate: "You're likable enough, Hillary."

Bill Clinton, Jan. 7, 2008, town hall in Hanover, N.H., on Barack Obama's anti-war credentials: "Give ... me ... a ... break. ... This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."

Hillary Clinton, Jan. 7, 2008, Dover, N.H., interview with Fox News: "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. It took a president to get it done."

BET founder Robert Johnson, Jan. 13, 2008: The Clintons were "deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood — and I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book."

Barack Obama, Jan. 14, 2008, interview with Reno Gazette-Journal: "I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not, and in a way that Bill Clinton did not."

David Shuster, MSNBC, Feb. 7, 2008: "Doesn't it seem as if Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?"

Barack Obama, April 6, 2008, Pacific Heights home in San Francisco, recorded by citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler: People in small-town Pennsylvania "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations..."

Hillary Clinton, May 24, 2008, editorial board meeting with Sioux Falls Argus-Leader: "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."

Barack Obama, Aug. 16, 2008, to Pastor Rick Warren on distinguishing rights of a fetus: "Whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity ... is above my pay grade."

John McCain, Sept. 15, 2008: "The fundamentals of our economy are strong."

Barack Obama, October 2008, to "Joe the Plumber" Joe Wurzelbacher: "Right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."

Joe Biden, Oct. 20, 2008, Seattle fundraiser: "Mark my words. It will not be 6 months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy ... Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."

Many Hillary supporters and Republicans will pick up Game Change hoping somehow for an alternate ending. Heilemann (of New York magazine) and Halperin (of Time) aren't about to bite. While they take no sides, some of their impressions trickle through, and they are not unlike what Hillary and McCain backers suspected (rightly or wrongly) of the mainstream media ... they see Obama as coolly above the fray, never too high, never too low, pushing all the right buttons while others bungled, virtually a mistake-free candidate, the only one of the bunch with the right temperament for the job.

The authors rarely venture into commentary, but when they do — such as their dismissive assessment of the presidential debates as one-sided affairs, justified by overnight TV polls — they aren't particularly convincing.

To their credit, Heilemann and Halperin aren't without a funny here and there. In the category of "They always know," a John Edwards aide, Nick Baldick, had misgivings about Edwards' relationship with Rielle Hunter and took a video of the pair home to his wife to ask her opinion. The authors, paraphrasing, said Baldick's wife at once blurted, Oh, my God! He's (bleeping) her!

There is some strategic insight also. We learn Obama's brain trust headed by David Axelrod wanted the first debate about foreign policy because they believed McCain was overrated on the subject, a sentiment likely true. Hillary Clinton also deployed an aide to call Caroline Kennedy in hopes of setting up an endorsement (not a good idea). The authors also leave the impression Hillary isn't too thrilled about being secretary of state.

For other bigger-picture isssues, one has to read between the lines ... it seems like elite campaigns regard the VP choice as just another assignment, whereas the Mickey Mouse operations are the ones that obsess over it. And why was there such an air of desperation about the McCain campaign in the summer of 2008, when polls were showing him in a virtual tie?

Whether Sarah Palin helped or hurt the ticket will be argued forever (it is this writer's belief she helped significantly, as a crowd draw, person of interest and fundraiser), but it might be inferred that her gaffes actually helped overshadow McCain's clearly bungled handling of the TARP vote.

Unaddressed is the issue of whether senators make lousy presidential candidates because they have no ideas and are more concerned about their comfort level in the chamber than running the government.

There is virtually nothing in the book about why so many of the nation's top black politicians endorsed Hillary Clinton over a black candidate even after Barack Obama had apparently gained the upper hand in November 2007, and it is only slightly hinted, deliciously, that these candidates spend a lot more time reading the Internet than we might think.

The title is curious. It figures to refer to John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin. But the book is mostly about the Obama-Clinton race, with more details on the Clintons than anyone else. There were a lot more games than change.

There is a fascinating cocktail-party question from this book that the authors won't go near: Whether Obama was a sensational candidate who bested a Democratic legend and a respected Republican hero ... or every single rival happened to be borderline incompetent and unelectable, and thus the surprise is that he couldn't close the deal much faster.

Maybe we'll know in 2012.

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (2009)

Featuring: Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, John McCain, Cindy Lou Hensley McCain, Sarah Palin, Adam Moss, Rick Stengel, New York magazine, Time, Andrew Wylie, Scott Moyers, Wylie Agency, Jeff Jacobs, CAA, Richard Plepler, HBO, Tim Duggan, Jonathan Burnham, HarperCollins, Kathy Schneider, Tina Andreadis, Kate Pruss Pinnick, Leslie Cohen, Allison Lorentzen, Mike Allen, Matt Bai, Dan Balz, David Chalian, John Dickerson, Robert Draper, Joshua Greene, John Harris, Al Hunt, Joe Klein, Ryan Lizza, Jonathan Martin, John McCormick, Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, Liza Mundy, Adam Nagourney, Bill Nichols, John Richardson, Michael Shear, Roger Simon, Ben Smith, Jeffrey Toobin, Jeff Zeleny, Aaron Kiersh, Frankie Thomas, Steven Yaccino, Elise O'Shaughnessy, Vanity Fair, Karen Avrich, Kurt Andersen, Anne Kreamer, Chris Anderson, John Battelle, Lisa Clements, David Dreyer, Mike Elliott, Emma Oxford, Mary Ellen Glynn, Dwight Holton, Katrina Heron, Michael Hirschorn, John Homans, Jeff Kwatinetz, Kerry Luft, Kenny Miller, Rachel Leventhal, Zoe Miller-Leventhal, Neil Parker, Kay Moffett, Jeff Pollack, Robert Reich, Jordan Tamagni, Michael Schlein, Will Wade-Gery, Emily Botein, Harry Werksman, Fred Wilson, Joanne Wilson, Richard Heilemann, Diana Rhoten, Josh Tyrangiel, Ina Avrich, Bob Barnett, Gary Foster, Kyle Froman, Gil Fuchsberg, Nancy Gabriner, Charlie Gibson, Debbie Halperin, Bianca Harris, Dan Harris, Andrew Kirtzman, Ben Kushner, David Westin, Peter Jennings, Megan Halperin, Hannah Halperin, Madelyn Halperin, Laura Hartmann, Peter Hartmann, RoseAnne McCabe, Gary Halperin, Carolyn Hartmann, David Halperin, Morton Halperin, Diane Orentlicher, Ina Young, Joe Young, Marty Nesbitt, Chris Edley, Harvard Law School, Boalt Hall, David Axelrod, David Plouffe, Robert Gibbs, Steve Hildebrand, Valerie Jarrett, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse, Hotel Fort Des Moines, Terry McAuliffe, Orange Bowl, Mark Penn, Mandy Grunwald, Howard Wolfson, Neera Tanden, Patti Solis Doyle, Bill Richardson, Renaissance Savery Hotel, John Kerry, Leo Hindery, Tom Daschle, Linda Daschle, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, "Saturday Night Live," HillPAC, Monica Lewinsky, Marc Rich, Vince Foster, Whitewater, Simon and Schuster, Pope John Paul II, Living History, Madonna, Britney Spears, Whitehaven, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean, Steve Ricchetti, Robert F. Kennedy, Maggie Williams, John Hart, James Carville, Tom Vilsack, Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Chelsea Clinton, Evelyn Lieberman, Cleveland Park, Cheryl Mills, My Life, Neil Bluhm, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Russell Senate Office Building, Hart Building, Ted Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sasha and Malia Obama, Huma Abedin, Craig Robinson, Pete Rouse, Paul Simon, Al Gore, Christopher Dodd, Hurricane Katrina, Jon Corzine, Bill Nelson, Jon Favreau, Tim Russert, Dreams from My Father, Anita Dunn, Deval Patrick, "Black Jesus," Harry Reid, Samuel Clemens, Joe Biden, Evan Bayh, Mark Warner, "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," "I don't oppose all wars ... What I am opposed to is a dumb war," Dick Durbin, Chuck & Iris Schumer, Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad, Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, Barbara Boxer, Mike Dukakis, George McGovern, Dick Morris, King David Hotel, Jay Carson, John Podesta, Burson-Marsteller, Ed Koch, Tony Blair, Microsoft, Avis, Philippe Reines, Patrick Healy, New York Times, Lange's deli, Ron Burkle, Belinda Stronach, Julie Tauber McMahon, Gina Gershon, Robert Rubin, Doug Band, Claire McCaskill, Harold Ickes, The Audacity of Hope, Nairobi, Kenya, Harkin Steak Fry, John Grisham, The Innocent Man, Hopefund, Alyssa Mastromonaco, Harold Ford Jr., Thomas Eagleton, Richard J. Daley, Bill Daley, Richard M. Daley, Rahm Emanuel, Newt Gingrich, Coco Pazzo, Rick Warren, Saddleback, Sam Brownback, George Soros, Colin Powell, "Monday Night Football," Tipper Gore, Old State Capital, Springfield, Rolling Stone, Terry Shumaker, Alice Chamberlin, Ricia McMahon, Mike Henry, Tim Kaine, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals, Ed Muskie, Jack Warner, David Geffen, Rauschenberg, de Kooning, Pollock, Gorky, Jasper Johns, DreamWorks SKG, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Beverly Hilton, Joe Roth, William Morris Agency, Jim Wiatt, James Mangold, Lynda Obst, Maureen Dowd, Lincoln Bedroom, Leonard Peltier, Warren Beatty, Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Hamptons, Alan Patricof, Jonathan Mantz, Michael Whouley, Sheila Nix, Rod Blagojevich, Teresa Vilmain, John Lewis, Vernon Jordan, Ted Strickland, Roger Altman, Vogue, Anna Wintour, Perkins Coie, Bob Bauer, David Binder, Joel Benenson, Penny Pritzker, Orin Kramer, Robert Wolf, Edgar Bronfman, Andre Harrell, L.A. Reid, Paul Tewes, Facebook, YouTube, Charlie Rose, Reggie Love, Brian, "Well, the first thing we'd have to do is make sure that we've got an effective emergency response," Jimmy Carter, Dan Pfeiffer, Julianna Smoot, Martha's Vineyard, Eric Whitaker, Larry Grisolano, Dick Cheney, Harrison Hickman, Georgetown, Lauch Faircloth, Wade Edwards, Emma Claire Edwards, Nick Baldick, Josh Brumberger, Rielle Hunter, Stevie Nicks, Lucinda Williams, Grateful Dead, Regency, 540 Park, The Library, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Alison Poole, Jay McInerney, Cate Edwards, Peter Scher, Kim Rubey, David Ginsberg, Saving Graces, Oprah Winfrey, David Bonior, Joe Trippi, Gary Hart, Fortress Investment Group, Jay Leno, Evercore Partners, American Media, National Enquirer, David Pecker, Huffington Post, Dennis Kucinich, Eliot Spitzer, John Legend, Ray Clay, Stevie Wonder, David Yepsen, Tony Rezko, Karen Hicks, Ballston, Bill Shaheen, "one of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use," "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'," Madeleine Albright, Magic Johnson, George Stephanopoulos, Chet & Mari Culver, Fred Baron, Andrew Young, Jonathan Prince, Azalea, Wesley Clark, Dorothy Rodham, Gennifer Flowers, Nick Clemons, Saint Anselm College, "I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it," "You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha," "You're likable enough, Hillary," LeBron James, "I'm LeBron, baby, I can play on this level, I got some game," "This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," Roy Spence, Doug Sosnik, Don Baer, Guy Cecil, James Clyburn, Robert Johnson, "I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not, and in a way that Bill Clinton did not," Lizard's Thicket, Dick Harpootlian, Lee Atwater, Greg Craig, Jesse Jackson, Vicki Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Maria Shriver, John Carson, will.i.am, David Shuster, "Doesn't it seem as if Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?," Betsey Wright, "3AM," Jay Rockefeller, Austan Goolsbee, Patrick Leahy, Geoff Garin, "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," William Ayers, Sid Blumenthal, Bill Moyers, Louis Farrakhan, Frances Quinn, "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California," Drudge Report, Mo Elleithee, Tina Flournoy, Dianne Feinstein, PUMA, John Weaver, Rick Davis, Mark Salter, Carla Eudy, Terry Nelson, Jerry Falwell, Bridget McCain, Jack McCain, Jimmy McCain, Meghan McCain, Brett O'Donnell, Rush Limbaugh, Lindsey Graham, Charlie Black, Fred Thompson, Donna Hanover, Judi Nathan, Ed Goeas, Charlie Crist, Jim Greer, George LeMieux, Harry Sargeant, Bain Capital, George Romney, Ann Romney, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, Tommy Thompson, Duncan Hunter, Jim Gilmore, Steve Schmidt, John Roberts, Sam Alito, Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Petraeus, Kathleen Shanahan, Bernard Kerik, Vicki Iseman, Bill Keller, Bob Bennett, Mark McKinnon, Rick Perry, Bob Dole, Morris Udall, Karl Rove, Paris Hilton, Ellen Degeneres, Kathleen Sebelius, "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," John Marttila, Eric Holder, Jim Webb, Jennifer Palmieri, Kate Snow, Michael Sheehan, Sarah Hurwitz, A.B. Culvahouse, Tim Pawlenty, Michael Bloomberg, Nicolle Wallace, Tom Ridge, Bill McInturff, Ted Stevens, Todd Palin, Bristol Palin, Track Palin, Trig Palin, Piper Palin, Bob Delgado, Ted Frank, Geraldine Ferraro, Tucker Eskew, Andrew Smith, Peggy Noonan, Mike Murphy, Charles Gibson, Fred Davis, Steve Biegun, Randy Scheunemann, Matthew Scully, Steve Murphy, Paul Volcker, William Donaldson, Robert Wolf, Hank Paulson, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong," Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Chris Cox, Carly Fiorina, Larry Summers, Laura Tyson, Ben Bernanke, Nancy Pelosi, Lehman Brothers, John Boehner, Dick Cheney, David Letterman, Steve Schwarzman, Henry Kravis, John Thain, Jimmy Lee, Rob Portman, Katie Couric, Mike Sommers, Ed Gillespie, Barney Frank, Richard Shelby, Mitch McConnell, "above my pay grade," Tom Donilon, Ron Klain, Michael Steele, Jim Wilkinson, Tina Fey, Gawker, Mark Wallace, Linda Lingle, Priscilla Shanks, Jennifer Granholm, William Kristol, Wayne Berman, David Binder, Jimmy Smits, Tony Blinken, Colin Powell, Mike Dennehy, Madelyn Dunham

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