Thursday, April 21, 2011

Game Change

I finally read "Game Change." In some ways, it's a bit of a disappointment. For the most part, it really doesn't tell you anything you wouldn't have known by closely following the news in 2008, which, if you bought this book, you probably did. I would say that "Game Change" is to "What it Takes" as "CSI" is to "The Wire" -- entertaining enough, to be sure, but lacking in depth, quality, and revelatory power.

That said, there are two aspects of "Game Change" that make it worth reading, and possibly assigning to undergrads. The first is the coverage of the early efforts by party leaders to groom Obama for a presidential run. You really get the impression of Obama as a made guy: he'd certainly thought about running for president, but not so early in his national political career. But party elites (broadly defined) from Harry Reid to David Geffen were looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton and directly urged Obama to run. The book's treatment of the Republican nominations process is breezy and uninformative (although I loved the descriptions of McCain and his potty mouth), but these early sections on the Democratic process were really quite good and would fit well into a parties class. (They also suggest that 2008 was a better case for The Party Decides than it originally seemed.)

The second is the examination of how the McCain campaign managed Sarah Palin. Palin comes through in the book as an odd but somewhat sympathetic character. She was initially very eager to help out the McCain ticket and dove into memorizing world facts and developing speeches, but she was soon overwhelmed, thrown into a media firestorm without much preparation. The book makes it sound like she was clinically depressed at one point, sleeping rarely, losing weight, and going blank during conversations. Just prior to the vice presidential debate, the campaign managers decided to intervene, essentially demanding she eat better and take sleeping pills, limiting the amount of information she was expected to memorize, and reuniting her with her family for debate prep. I might use a chapter from this when discussing the role of campaign managers in my campaigns class.


Daniel said...

Hmmm interesting, I've been meaning to read Game Change but haven't gotten to it yet. I've read a lot of reviews and commentary around it though and this is the first I've heard of the book painting anything close to a sympathetic picture of Palin.

Seth Masket said...

Well, the picture of Palin is somewhat sympathetic, but hardly flattering. She's portrayed as being in over her head, which can't be very nice to read. At the same time, the campaign really forced her into some difficult positions and hadn't really considered how it might affect her or the campaign.