Quite a sensation, this new book. And deservedly so, even though the helpful pre-launch fuss over Harry Reid saying "Negro" has been absurdly overdone.
What Reid said was a classic Kinsleyan gaffe: a politically embarrassing truth. Obviously it is part of Obama's attraction that he conforms to whites' perceptions of how a black politician should look, sound, and conduct himself. Plainly true--and yet so shocking! I think poor Reid has apologised enough. There are vastly more interesting things in Game Change than this.
You can get a good sense of the book from the New York extract. And if you haven't already bought it, that might be as much as you can get at the moment, because copies seem to be unobtainable. (No e-book version, either, which has Kindle owners in revolt. Question: why not make it available initially at the same price as the printed book? Would that be too much like capitalism?)
Before I say anything else, bear in mind that John Heilemann is an old friend of mine. I am biased. Let that be noted. Also, I haven't finished reading it; when I have I might write more. For now, suffice to say I was tempted to cancel all appointments and inhale it at one sitting. It is an amazing piece of work.
I already think it's the best book on a presidential campaign I've read by a mile. And it's one of the best books on politics of any kind I've read. As for entertainment value, I put it up there with Catch 22. It is in the top percentile in three quite separate dimensions. First, it is a remarkable feat of reporting. Where was everybody else while all this was going on? Second, it is politically sophisticated: Heilemann and Halperin are extremely smart. Third, it is an absolutely gripping read, because on top of everything else, they can write.
Some people are complaining because the book's tales are mostly unattributed. I suppose that is a fair criticism. Maybe I'm too relaxed about it because I know that Heilemann is meticulous: he does not make things up. Have they been contradicted on anything yet? Not that I have seen. Also, given the nature of some of the revelations, we wouldn't know this stuff at all if we insisted that sources be disclosed. In their case, it's a trade I'm more than willing to make.
Others are complaining because it's gossip-mongering. Yes, but what gossip. Good for Heilemann and Halperin that their fascination with salacious stories is so exuberant: makes a nice change from the phoney propriety in which the NYT (for instance) drapes itself while serving up political scandals. And they are equal-opportunity wreckers of reputations. The Obamas emerge relatively unscathed, at least by the psychopathological standards of the Clintons, the Edwardses and McCain-Palin--which isn't saying much, admittedly. But there is no overt ideological agenda. They stick it to everybody.
I say no overt ideological agenda. Inadvertently, I think, the book makes a strong case for limited government. These people are not like us. Perhaps they start out like us, but they turn into something else. Power corrupts; the struggle for power corrupts absolutely.