Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hick on a High Wire

Hick on a High Wire.  This description of Sarah Palin is my favourite line from Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime, a juicy inside look at the 2010 US nomination and election campaigns. 

Supported by inside sources, the book digs up lots of dirt behind what was seen on the public stage.  Clinton is clearly smart and deeply knowledgeable, but her campaign is ravaged by a totally dysfunctional team, suffering from internal rivalries and the ever-present danger of Bill  (would there be publicity about an affair, would he overshadow Hilary, would he veer off message).   

Edwards comes off as an arrogant lightweight, who studiously avoids facing the truth that his affair has doomed his campaign.  He can't even time his capitulation cleverly enough to earn any concessions.  And the angelic Elizabeth Edwards emerges as a disagreeable and belligerent partner, engaging in nightly arguments with her husband.  

Obama is cool and calm and his team works together well.  They are meticulous in planning for each part of the campaign and in their selection process for VP.  They make few missteps and his opponents seem unable to exploit his vulnerabilities.  Hilary bristles when the press punishes her so relentlessly, but gives Obama a magical ride.  "Why don't people like me?", she plaintively asks.

McCain sleepwalked half-heartedly through the campaign, showing neither energy nor competitive spirit, nor clarity of message.  The big question "How did Sarah Palin get on the ticket?" is answered.  Sheer carelessness.    After vetting at length the five candidates on the short list, McCain concluded no one would be a 'game changer'.  So at the last minute, he resorts to the long list, where Sarah Palin's name had landed based on a computerized search for women Republicans.   They rushed through a sloppy vetting process and Palin arrived for her talk with McCain 12 hours before the announcement deadline.  Game changer indeed!  Even those who worried about Obama being a Muslim with links to terrorism and perhaps not even born in the US would vote for him rather than risk a Palin Presidency.

The description of Palin's arrival in the deep end of the pool, with no qualifications (except that God meant her to be there) was riveting.  When overwhelmed with trying to flash-learn what she needed to know, she would simply dissociate herself from the whole process.

We see flashes of Obama's cockiness (well, you'd have to be cocky to take a run at the Presidency from where he started, wouldn't you?) in private moments.  But one of his most contented smiles is when he has finally convinced Clinton to be his Secretary of State.  

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book, despite making some assumptions about its readership - like knowing in detail how the caucus system or that a reference to 42 meant Clinton (42nd President).  I highly recommend this book to anyone.

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