'Game Change' reveals Obama-Clinton tensions, Biden's loose tongue, Edwards's complicated marriage, Palin's shading of the truth
WHIP IT UP: "Game Change," a new gossipy book about the 2008 campaign has already sparked controversy over comments Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made about Barack Obama's race and dialect. The book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin paints a sharp portrait of the behind-the-scenes battles, personalities and relationships that drove the campaigns.
In one captivating scene, Heilemann and Halperin describe an eruption in the ever-present tension between Obama and Hillary Clinton. Both candidates happened to be boarding their campaign planes on the tarmac of Reagan National Airport at the same time when Hillary sent word she wanted to talk to Obama. The meeting began cordially but quickly deteriorated into a laying out of grievances about each other.
"For the next several minutes," Heilemann and Halperin write, "the two went at it in animated fashion. Bug-eyed, red-faced, waving her arms, Hillary pointed at Obama's chest. Obama tried to calm her down by putting his hand on her shoulder - but that only made her angrier. Finally, they broke from the clinch, stalking back to their respective planes. 'Wow, that was surreal,' Obama told Axelrod. He was struck by her fury, and more than that, he thought that she seemed shaken. 'You could see something in her eyes,' he said, something he hadn't seen before. Maybe it was fear. Maybe desperation. 'You know what?' Obama said. 'We're doing something right.'"
Joe Biden, as is well-known, was unpredictable on the campaign trail. Heilemann and Halperin portray just how much the vice-presidential candidate tested Obama's patience.
"One day in the middle of September," the authors write, "a disturbing bulletin reached O-Town [Obama's people]. Apparently, Biden had been hanging around with the reporters in the back of his new plane, running his mouth about how he was more qualified to be president than Obama. On paper, of course, it was arguably true. But that didn't make it go down any easier with the suits; actually, it struck a nerve. ... A chill set in between Chicago and the Biden plane. Joe and Obama barely spoke by phone, rarely campaigned together. Not only was Biden kept off Obama's nightly campaign conference call, he wasn't even told it existed. ... Joe's insertion of both feet into his mouth on October 20 took the tensions into a new and nasty place. At a fund raiser in Seattle, Biden seemed to be showing off for the wealthy donors ... 'Mark my words,' he told the muckety-mucks. 'It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy...' On Obama's nightly call, the candidate hit the ceiling. ([Chief strategist David] Axelrod was already up there, needing to be peeled off, having let fly a string of F-bombs when he first found out what Biden had said.) 'Golly, man!' Obama said, with more anger in his voice than 'gollys' normally carry. He was, in fact, as pissed off as most people on the call had ever heard him, more so than he'd been at even the wickedest jabs from Hillary Clinton. 'How many times is Biden gonna say something stupid?'"
John Edwards failed presidential race turned up more than political regrets. His relationship with his wife Elizabeth was drawn into the spotlight and comes under sharp scrutiny in "Game Change." Heilemann and Halperin write:
"What the world saw in Elizabeth: a valiant, determined, heroic everywoman. What the Edwards insiders saw: an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending crazywoman. With her husband, she could be immensely affectionate or brutally dismissive. ...As far back as the 1998 senatorial campaign, she had been prone to irrational outbursts that perplexed and worried John's advisers. ... During the 2004 race, Elizabeth badgered and berated John's advisers round the clock. ... [Her] illness seemed at first to mellow her in the early months of 2005 - but not for long. One day, she was on a conference call with the staffers of One America, the political action committee that was being turned into a vehicle for John's upcoming 2008 campaign. ... At the end she asked if her and her husband's health care coverage had been arranged. Not yet, she was told. ... She flew into a rage. If this isn't dealt with by tomorrow, everyone's health care at the PAC will be cut off until it's fixed, she barked. I don't care if nobody has health care until John and I do! The health care call immediately attained wide infamy in the Edwardses' political orbit. The people around them marveled at Elizabeth's callousness - this from a woman whose family had multiple houses and a net worth in the tens of millions. ... Yet no one called her out on her behavior, least of all her husband. When she demeaned him, he pretended not to notice; when people complained about her behavior, he brushed them off. His default reflex was to mollify her or avoid her. No one doubted that, as her condition improved, the increase in John's travel had a lot to do with steering clear of his wife."
In Heilemann and Halperin's narrative, Sarah Palin is seen as unprepared for the big stage of national politics, and John McCain is portrayed as never expressing a word of disappointment in her. However, McCain's staff was worried about Palin early on.
"The first signs of trouble appeared immediately after the convention," Heilemann and Halperin write, "when the campaign staff began digging in a systematic way into Palin's background, and noticed that she had a tendency to shade the truth. Had she really said 'thanks but no thanks' to the Bridge to Nowhere? Well, no. Had she really sold the state jet on eBay? Not exactly. Had she and Todd really been without health insurance until he got his union card? Actually the story was more complicated. ... The campaign quickly discovered that consulting her about any issue ... invariably yielded a sanitized version of reality."
By Steven E. Levingston |
January 13, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
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