They say you should never see how sausage is made, especially if you enjoy eating sausage. Speaking as something of a political junkie, the 2008 presidential election held my attention more than any other in recent history. It was like you could sense something roiling under the surface, the whispers of history in the making. So, for people like me, there is a huge sense of watching sausage being made while reading Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
, the behind-the-scenes election tell-all by John Heilemann of New York
magazine and Mark Halperin of Time
Each chapter had its own revelation to share. I've already posted about a few of them here as I read the book: the frequent, friendly clandestine phone calls between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush
; John McCain repeatedly yelling "fuck you" in his wife Cindy's face for interrupting him
; how much the Republican candidates despised Mitt Romney
(McCain called him a "fucking phony," and Mike Huckabee wondered if Romney didn't have a soul); and how Sarah Palin didn't know her ass from her elbow
. But there are more. So many more.
Some of the revelations aren't all that surprising to anyone who was paying attention: Palin was an unvetted, intellectually incurious, last-minute choice that no one in the campaign liked except McCain. McCain himself was so convinced it was simply his turn to be president that he resented even having to campaign during the primaries. Same with Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama was cocky enough to diss Hillary Clinton and John McCain right to their faces numerous times, basically swatting away their offered hands of friendship and camaraderie. The John Edwards campaign didn't scoff at news reports of a $400 haircut because it was untrue, they scoffed because they knew Edwards had had haircuts that cost much, much more than that. Romney was more concerned with his own physical appearance than with anything that came out of his mouth. Al Gore, who had secretly weighed his options about running for president again in 2004, ultimately had no love for Hillary Clinton, whom he felt had tried to usurp his job as vice president while Bill was in office. Pretty much up until election night, Bill Clinton absolutely detested Obama, and though Hillary had more respect for him, she was hardly a fan. No big surprises there.
But there are other revelations I found more shocking. For instance, the reason so many Democrats approached Barack Obama back in 2006 to consider running for the presidency wasn't that they didn't like Hillary Clinton or think she could win. They did like Hillary, quite a lot actually, but there were rumors, strong
rumors, that Bill was having another affair, and they knew that if it ever got out it would sink her chances. (Bill also turns out to be the reason Hillary wasn't chosen for VP, and the reason she originally wanted to turn down the role of Secretary of State, knowing full well what liabilities her husband brought to the table.) Another unexpected revelation about Hillary: she rejected the idea of running for president in 2004, despite knowing she stood a better chance of beating Bush than Kerry did, because she had made a promise to her constituents to serve out her full term in the Senate, a promise she refused to break--which goes against the narrative I'd heard for years about her secret reasons for running for the Senate in the first place.
Bill Clinton wasn't the only one rumored to be having an affair. In the lead up to the 2008 primaries, it was alleged that Cindy McCain was having one too back in Arizona. When confronted with this by his staffers, John McCain seemed to already know about the affair, but he insisted Cindy join him on the trail in order to keep the rumors from spreading. There were moments of tenderness between them, but those moments were few and far between. More often, John and Cindy McCain rarely spoke to each other outside of him yelling and her crying.
And then there's John Edwards. The revelations about Edwards were the most shocking to me, but only because I used to like and respect him. Turns out he pulled the wool over my eyes as much as everyone else's. Put simply, John Edwards is a monster. After being on the Democratic ticket in 2004, his head swelled to the point where he thought of himself as a celebrity, someone who could get away with anything, from treating his campaign staff like personal servants to having an affair. He knew from the start that Rielle Hunter's baby was his (though he lied to everyone, including his wife, about it), but he jockeyed as hard and fast as he could to secure himself a role as Obama or Clinton's Vice President or Attorney General before the baby was born and the news broke, knowing it would instantly knock him out of the running. Luckily, neither Obama nor Clinton had intentions of committing anything to Edwards. In the end, Edwards convinced his closest yes-man, Andrew Young, to take the blame for Rielle's baby so he could keep himself in the running--putting Young's own family stability at risk. (Rielle Hunter herself comes off as completely insane, on the campaign trail often introducing herself to Edwards' donors as a "witch.")
Another shocker? Elizabeth Edwards is no better than her husband. If John Edwards is a monster, Elizabeth Edwards is the devil. She is revealed to be an abusive, paranoid, condescending madwoman who frequently berated and belittled her husband in front of everyone, calling him a "hick" and deriding his parents as "rednecks." Edwards' entire staff hated her. And she hated them too, treating them like enemies and yelling at them over the slightest things. The myth of Saint Elizabeth is profoundly debunked in this book. No one deserves cancer, and no one deserves a cheating spouse, but that's pretty much where my sympathy for her ends now.
There's so much more to be found in the pages of Game Change
, but there's no way I can cover it all here. All I can say is I loved it from start to finish. This book is highly recommended for political junkies, anyone with an interest in history, or anyone who just wants to see what their favorite candidate from 2008 is really like behind closed doors. In the end, you may regret seeing how the sausage is made, but you can't deny the process is as fascinating as it is sickening.