Wednesday, March 31, 2010

High Stakes


Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Whichever politician you like, you will read this and find the squeaky clean image that you have of that person just a wee bit tarnished. Whichever ones you vilify, you will find plenty here to back up your claims. Game Change is an inside look at the Democratic primary race and the subsequent General Election of 2008. Heilemann and Halperin both covered the election closely at the time, and believed they had enough material to publish a fair, accurate inside account of the race. They have done a reasonably good job of that, without doing a total hatchet job on anyone. Rumor has it that these two already have a contract to write a similar book after the 2012 election cycle.

Game Change is an interesting and juicy read, but there is little here about the issues that we all are concerned with - war, education, economics, health care, etc. It is mostly about the political process itself, and the way all campaigns spin themselves to the media. Even a candidate who makes a sincere effort to conduct an honorable and disciplined campaign gets sucked into the maelstrom of parsing each other to the nth degree. It gets tedious, and (worse) it distracts from the issues themselves. Sometimes Game Change made it seem that the candidates and their staffs sit around at television monitors, just waiting for their opponent to make some stupid gaffe. When that inevitably happens ("Barack Obama will be tested by terrorists early in his term..." "People get bitter and cling to guns and religion to make themselves feel better..." OR, more recently "blue-blooded Americans..."), the other side jumps on it and makes whatever hay they can, often twisting the words and taking them out of context to make the problem even worse. This tactic has been used for a long time, and is not helpful. It brings out the worst in the candidates instead of the best. Except for having a biracial presidential candidate and a woman vice-presidential candidate, I'm not sure the game really changed much at all in 2008. Maybe next time.

What bugs me is, it's NOT a game. The winners of any election make decisions that affect lives other than their own. A president's decisions potentially affect people across the world. Yet we allow the candidates to waste time trying to paint their opponent as an elitist or a hippie or a redneck or whatever they think the electorate will find the most offensive. There is added bonus if you can dig up some dirt on a candidate's spouse, child, or other family members. I believe that this style of election plays some role in the ugly vitriol we are seeing in public life right now. If elections are won on this kind of behaviour, why should we expect elected officials to behave any better once they are in office? We can do better than this.

Reverent Reader

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