May 13, 2013 | 8 comments
April 12, 2013 | 35 comments
March 25, 2013 | 5 comments
January 31, 2013 | 35 comments
December 19, 2012 | 7 comments
Theodore White worthy the Game Change crowd is not — and not only because of their f-word proficiency.
Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin,
and the Race of a Lifetime
By John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
(Harper, 448 pages, $27.99)
For many of us, Theodore White’s Making of the President volumes — 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 — set and defined the gold standard for political reporting and analysis and provided an accurate first draft of American history.
As White put it, “History is story. Politics, in the process of becoming history, is the story of a handful of men reaching for the levers of power. Therefore one must seek out the leaders as men.”
In what Bill Buckley called this “magisterial series,” that is precisely what White did, with “a transcendent wholesomeness, a genuine affection for the best in humankind.” And in the end, that’s precisely what’s lacking in this book and in the politics it reflects.
Game Change certainly has story, and the 2008 campaign gives it structure. Sharply written, quick and clever, it moves. And there’s no surprise ending. But unlike any of White’s books, this one suggests neither “wholesomeness” nor any interest at all in what’s “best for humankind.” In fact, throughout the book, there’s little indication that any of the candidates have thoughts about anything at all beyond themselves — no ideas, no issues, no transcendent concerns. Nor, oddly enough, although the central characters are all real people, do any of them emerge as much more than one-dimensional stick figures, caricatures who would have as much difficulty as Teddy Kennedy did in answering the question Roger Mudd once put to him: “Why do you want to be president?” Kennedy mumbled, stumbled, and was unable to provide a coherent answer; and at that moment, on camera, his presidential ambitions sank permanently out of sight, much like a car driving off a bridge and slowly sliding beneath the water.
But that’s a Theodore White sort of question, and that’s not what this book is concerned with. Instead, it’s a compendium of yesterday’s campaign gossip, fed to the authors for various self-serving reasons by candidates, hangers-on, people with scores to settle, operators, consultants, con men, hustlers, and a raft of anonymous sources. To complain about the lack of attribution is pointless. In their introduction, the authors assure us that in their reconstructions of thought, dialogues, private conversations, observations, and dramatizations, “they brought to bear deliberate professional consideration and judgment.”
In other words, as the senators tell the interns, trust us.
Not everyone does — New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, for one, who claims the circumstances surrounding an anti-Clinton column she wrote based on an interview with David Geffen, the Hollywood mogul and former Clinton bankroller, were reported inaccurately in Game Change. Most memorable Geffen line: “Everybody in politics lies, but they [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it’s troubling.” Nor, says Dowd through the Times’s public editor, did Game Change’s authors ever interview her.
“So,” asks the Times Public Editor, “what is a person to believe: someone speaking on the record, or the word of — whom? And what does it say about other parts of Game Change ?”
What indeed? The authors, one from New York magazine, the other from Time, both Charlie Rose-approved members of the Washington/New York media establishment, tell us that most of the book’s material came from “more than 300 interviews with more than 200 people,” all of which “were conducted on a ‘deep background’ basis, which means we agreed not to identify the subjects as sources in any way.”
Anything within quotes has been verified, we’re told, and when people’s thoughts are included, they’re put in italics, which gives us some of the book’s more ghastly moments, as when Valerie Jarrett watched Obama weeping. “Even Obama’s closest friends had never seen him choke up in public before. He’s not emoting about the past, Jarrett thought. He’s emoting about the future. About the fact that the sacrifices he’s imposed on his family are only just beginning.”
As Sarah Palin might say, “You betcha!” But no matter. Beyond accuracy and methodology, there are deeper questions. Game Change didn’t become a best-seller because of its presentation of Obama as Prince Valiant, its analysis of presidential character, or its discussion of great issues, but because of its gossipy tidbits, both anonymous and attributed. And that raises the questions. Who and what were these morsels gathered for? Were the authors selectively short-changing the publications they worked for and the people they served in order to save the best morsels for their book? Could this be something new? Double checkbook journalism, perhaps?
Everyone has now heard or read Harry Reid’s comments characterizing Obama as “light-skinned” and “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” With the publication of Game Change, those words raced around the world, helping to blow the book up the best-seller lists. But what if they’d been reported when first heard? In the middle of a heated and ongoing campaign, in which race was a muted but always present subject, would that anecdote have had political consequences? Of course it would.
By withholding those comments during the campaign, the authors no doubt realized they had something that would help sell their book. And one suspects they didn’t want their narrative diverted from the story line they’ve laid down. Some might say they’re also attempting to set the terms of the debate by withholding information on some issues, while encouraging us to focus on others. Perhaps. But then that’s nothing new.
iT MAY BE THAT WE’RE dealing with a new breed. But at times, as both Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew would agree, it’s also more of the same. At one point, the New York Times decided to try to trash McCain with a long sleazy piece about relations with an attractive lobbyist, full of insinuation and innuendo and fed by anonymous sources. It fizzled, as such efforts usually do. The Times is always trying, and always failing, to break a big sex story, while pretending it’s about something noble.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?