Game Change: 2008 Election in a Nutshell

Game Change is almost but not quite a history book about the 2008 election. For folks that follow the week-to-week (or even day-to-day) of political commentary, should stop, and just wait to read about the simple truth of it all a year after the election. I feel like I learned more from Game Change than I did from the countless hours of reading the NY Times and other sources in the year leading up to the election. I suspect the same might be true for the current election season.

The book gets at who Obama, Clinton, McCain, Palin, Edwards, and Giuliani really are better than the media did during the campaign. Why? Because most of the book was written from interviews done right after the election. Everyone’s memory was fresh, and there was much less need to lie (or less immediate benefit for doing so). Some of it is a bit gossipy, even if the sources are solid.

The following, off the top of my head, are some of the more interesting things I remember from the book:

Obama is a Political Science Nerd

Obama is a policy wonk. He is known for making flowery speeches and being a good politician, but in fact his interests lie in long private debates over details of policy. Yes, he is a political science nerd, and this alone made me gain a ton of respect for him. He is luckily more than an empty suit with pretty words that I was worried he might be. One problem he kept complaining about (as many other politicians do) is all the time he is supposed to spend fundraising takes away from the valuable policy discussions. I can relate to that problem, as that seems to plague the world of academia as well. Many professors find that a large portion of their time is spent searching for funding of their research as opposed to doing the actual research.

Elizabeth Edwards is Not a Saint

I don’t want to touch this subject too much because Elizabeth Edwards was deceived by her husband and suffered a public death while inspiring many people with her saintly image. What the book reveals is that she was a very difficult person in private life. She was controlling, irrational, and just not good to John. Clearly he didn’t deserve better, but the description of Elizabeth’s real-life character helped me understand that dysfunctional relationship a little better.

Politically, McCain was In Over His Head

I gained a lot of respect for McCain after reading this book, because honestly, his instinct and intentions are genuine in a way that’s rare in politics. As he started losing, however, he let other people define who he is. He started trying to “play” politics and lost. It’s clear that the brilliant politicians in this whole group are the Clintons. McCain and Obama are much more human and real. Luckily for Obama, he can also make a hell of a good speech, and McCain can’t.

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