Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

The greatest asset brought by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s political expose of the “game changing” 2008 presidential election is its uncanny ability to translate the stories of determined politicians into an adventurous novel about conquest, compulsion, competition, and catch-22’s. Undeniably, the candidates of the 2008 presidential bid were perhaps the most peculiar in our entire national history. However, while most accounts of the political phenomenon limit coverage to the most basic of details like Sarah Palin’s interview with Katie Couric, Game Change digs much further. Through extensive interviews with political aides, assistants, employees, politicians, and even the subjects of the book themselves (most conducted under agreements of anonymity), Heilemann and Halperin synthesize a fascinating exploration of what truly took place behind the scenes of the events we thought we knew so well.

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Obama’s political beginnings stemmed from positions in the Illinois State Senate, and later, the United States Senate (as a Senator from Illinois). Our current president hadn’t served a single complete term when he first chose to run – in fact, he was initially ambivalent about running altogether. His wife, Michelle, disliked the idea of Barack being an absentee father; he was criticized for his lack of political experience; Hillary Clinton was expected to take the nomination anyway. Such confounding circumstances – the primary confounding circumstance being, of course, Obama’s ultimate victory – provide the origins of the title, “Game Change”. From Obama’s unprecedented utilization of internet donations to Hillary’s eight-year-long spoiled harvest of the Democratic nomination – the 2008 race was a true political game changer.

As Game Change informs us, however, the Barack Obama we saw on television is not the Barack Obama we’d meet in real life. The televised persona, while reflective of his real-life ambitions and well-rounded nature, encompasses years of laborious effort on the part of a family, a chief advisor named David Axelrod, a strategist named David Plouffe, an aide named Dan Pfieffer, and a regiment of innumerable aides, consultants, assistants, and of course, grassroots supporters.

America’s dual role as international superpower/police force places our country’s president upon a peculiar pedestal of expected glory and leadership. It was the job of this election to determine just who that leader would be. The way in which each candidate handled his or her political staff proved to be incredibly revealing of his or her gross leadership capacities. Hillary Clinton, for example, was at the status of political virtuoso. In one of my favorite lines from Game Change, Halperin and Heilemann note, “Hillary Clinton knew who she was eating lunch with on the first Monday of next February” (102). Clinton’s life – just as that of her husband – was so well-planned that, on some level, she was perhaps too prepared for the expected and too unprepared for the ‘game change’ that would be thrown at her.

From the language used to discuss Clinton’s character, it can almost be inferred that neither Heilemann nor Halperin were too fond of the former New York Senator. Nevertheless, one cannot help but admire Clinton’s tireless work ethic. While the authors claim her faults to include excessive micromanagement not at all unlike her husband’s, one finds most of Hillary’s mistakes surprisingly understandable – logical, even. Of course was incredibly upset when FOX News issued a blatant attack against her daughter – who wouldn’t be? The same line of reasoning can be applied to Clinton’s immediate reaction to her loss of the Democratic nomination. As much as Obama’s successes have risen from his own hard work and motivation, so have Hillary’s. All Hillary lacked was Obama’s opportune dashes of political luck, auditory brilliance, and exceptional charisma. On many levels, both were ready for the presidency – but only one could have it.

Certainly, Obama is not perfect – he swears, makes mistakes, and fights with his wife. But unlike most foul-mouthed souls, Obama demonstrates an uncanny ability to deal with his problems. He understands when he makes mistakes, and for the most part, knows both how and when to admit his faults. Whether you’re still curious about how this unknown Illinois Senator rose the ranks to president, or you simply want a refresher course in the game-changing 2008 presidential election, Game Change is your best bet.

The evolving nature of the American Presidency makes the exploration of its election all the more complex and compelling. In this respect, Game Change will forever remain an invaluable read – a true look at the ins and outs of government, leadership, and our ever-changing electoral arena.

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