John Heilemann’s and Mark Halperin’s new book Game Change, subtitled “Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime,” has got me really depressed. It is such a piece of meretricious crap–and until now I had admired Mark Halperin greatly from afar. It’s not only the narrative structure, built on a shit-load of unsourced (as in footnotes) gossip, innuendo and explosions of opinion shaped by malice and that human instinct for payback. It’s not only the dubious decision to recreate conversations word for word that neither H & H nor their sources heard. In short, too much of the book is not just second-hand but third and fourth-hand recountings of events.
It’s not only that. And really that should be enough for me. After all, I know first-hand exactly what it’s like to have falsehoods, half-baked rumors, storytelling served up with malice aforethought and with just plain stupidity spread abroad about oneself in the media.
No what really gets me is that H & H don’t have the basic story. Let me chew over one example for a bit. Why did Hillary Clinton lose Iowa? For all their insider access, H & H do not know.
H & H: Hillary “was also one of the most popular Democratic politicians in the country.” Maybe yes among Republicans and Independents, but the Democratic base despised, hated, loathed–one verb will not capture the animus–Hillary Rodham Clinton. And in Iowa the base organized to deliver her a humiliating defeat. Obama operatives can crow all they want about their vaunted strategy there; but really at the grassroots level it was all about mortally wounding Clinton and not whether it should be Obama or Edwards (or Richardson or Biden, for that matter) who would pick up the battle standard.
H & H: “The hokiness of Hillary’s likability tour was overpowering . . . but there were signs that whatever Clinton was doing, it was working.” On the contrary, the “likability tour” did Clinton in. As I wrote at the time, Clinton supporters and undecided Iowans left these events quiet and depressed. Since Midwesterners prize authenticity, this weird new Clinton persona gave rise to grave doubts about her.
H & H: “The prohibition against deploying Chelsea–intelligent, poised, and charming as she was–struck many of Clinton’s advisers as nuts.” Eventually, in campaigning for her mother, Chelsea demonstrated all those qualities. In Iowa, however, she was standoffish; she appeared stuck-up; she looked like she would rather be anywhere else. She refused to speak, actually–in Iowa, of all places! And she did her mother’s Iowa effort great harm when a few days before caucus she frostily dressed down a grade schooler requesting a few remarks for his school paper and Scholastic News. “I don’t give interviews,” Chelsea said. I bet Iowans still remember that one.
H & H: “”Watching her bitter and befuddled reaction [to hearing she had lost Iowa], her staggering lack of calm or command, one of her senior-most lieutenants thought for the first time, This woman shouldn’t be president.”
Et tu, Brute? Et tu, Heilemann/Halperin? Did it not occur to either of you H’s that this “senior-most lieutenant” (and I have a pretty good idea who she is) has an agenda?
And hey guess what, guys–it’s most unlikely that Hillary Clinton was “befuddled” by her loss on the night of caucus, because she knew she was going to lose days earlier–on New Year’s Eve, to be precise. If you had been there, as I was, you two weasels would know that.
In the end, that’s the ridiculous and utterly condescending thing about Game Change. Heilemann and Halperin write as if advisers, staffers, message spinners and inside politicos determined the outcome of the race. What the voters thought and how they decided are of no importance to these so-called journalists. Ordinary people, who would seem to be key in a democracy, even in a less-than-democratic procedure like a caucus, do not exist in the Heilemann/Halperin “race of a lifetime.”
So Heilemann and Halperin really have no clue why Obama won Iowa; why Edwards came in second. They parrot the triumphalist rhetoric of the Obama team, whom of course they treat well since they need to keep their access to the White House. Compounding their ignorance of the nature of the battle for Iowa, they do not hesitate to trash the losers with all sorts of unverifiable allegations.
Well, let it never be said no evil deed goes unrewarded. The initial run of 75,000 copies for Game Change sold out pre-release and another 75,000 has been ordered.
By the by, I piggybacked on something H & H wrote about the Clintons and posted it at Huffington Post yesterday.