Washington has been collectively salivating all week as the sordid political rumours spill forth from new book Game Change, written by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Described by the NY Times as a “spicy smorgasbord of observations, revelations and allegations”, the book is based on interviews with more than 300 insiders from the 2008 election campaign from all the different camps, dishing dirt on the candidates and their personal relationships.

So what were some of the juicier revelations?

  • There were major personal tensions between Barack Obama and Joe Biden during the campaign, in fact, the two barely spoke and Biden was kept out of critical conference calls. Biden claimed he was more experienced to run for president than Obama. Obama was frustrated with Biden’s constant gaffes, asking “How many times is Biden gonna say something stupid?”
  • After Sarah Palin’s disaster interview with Katie Couric, Palin is reported to have expressed doubts about accepting the VP nomination, “If I’d known everything I know now, I would not have done this”. Staff of McCain’s who were assigned to Palin actually discussed the scary possibility that Palin was mentally unstable, possibly suffering from postnatal depression. There were also fears by the McCain campaign of how to deal with Palin if McCain won and then died in office, since “it was inconceivable” that Palin could be president. Palin also thought that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, didn’t know why North and South Korea were different countries and was unaware of what the Federal Reserve did.
  • When trying to convince iconic Democrat Ted Kennedy to support Hillary, Bill Clinton made a belittling crack about Obama, saying “a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee”.
  • Bill Clinton is alleged to have had a serious long-term affair during the time of the campaign. Hillary Clinton’s team had “a war room within a war room”, ready and waiting to deal with the sex scandals surrounding Bill. Hillary also initially declined the role of Secretary of State because of Bill, saying “You know my husband … You’ve seen what happens. We’re going to be explaining something that he said every other day. You know I can’t control him, and at some point he’ll be a problem.”
  • Hilary Clinton was thinking of a late run for president in the 2004 election but was dissuaded by daughter Chelsea. She was also convinced that Obama cheated in the Iowa caucuses by importing out of state voters and that the Obama campaign was deliberately trying to play the race card.
  • Senator Harry Reid said thanks to Obama being a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one”, his racial background would help rather than hinder his attempts at the Democratic nomination.
  • John and Elizabeth Edwards were a highly dysfunctional couple, with many staffers aware of the Edwards affair (in which he fathered a child), even asking Edwards directly about it and at least three campaign aides quitting over the affair. Elizabeth and John would fight openly in front of staff about the affair, and Elizabeth is referred to as  an “abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending, crazy woman”. New York Magazine has published the entire Game Change chapter about the Edwards’ here.
  • The McCains also fought constantly, with strong rumours that Cindy McCain had a long-term boyfriend. She also accused John McCain of ruining her life and was unsupportive of his run for presidency.

The majority of sources in the book remain anonymous and much of the book relies on paraphrased conversations and unnamed sources. Heilemann and Halperin have acknowledged that sources often reported the “gist” of a conversation, rather than exact words. So is the book gossip or journalism? The authors claim that everything in the book is factual and verified. Critics, such as Jason Links on HuffPo who called it “a soulless and dishonest work”, don’t always agree.

There must be at least some truth to the rumours. The Clintons are usually on the offensive whenever rumours appear but this time are keeping very quiet, notes Politico.

What’s notable about the highly publicised release of Game Change, however, is the virtual silence from the Clinton camp. The lack of public outrage seems to mark the sputtering end of what was once known as the Clinton political machine and underlines a fact that onetime Clinton loyalists acknowledge: The book’s primary sources about the former candidate and current secretary of state are her own former staffers and intimates.

Harry Reid has come out acknowledging and apologising  for his “negro dialect” remarks. Although, says Peter Heinart, Reid was simply echoing an uncomfortable truth about race in American politics that even Colin Powell has admitted.

Apparently other journalists already knew about Clinton’s affair during the campaign, but had decided not to report it. According to one of the authors of Game Change, many journos also knew of the Edwards affair and had decided not to report it until the National Enquirer ran large with it.

Even if much of the book is unconfirmed rumours, the mixture of gossip and journalism gives us a nice insight into the real lives of politicians. For the Atlantic, this book just helps remind us that politics is a “messy, sweaty, ugly, arduous competition between flawed human beings”. The book is already No. 1 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and already out of stock.

Not that gossip and personal matters don’t impact on major political issues. The authors note that if Hillary had run and won the 2004 Democratic nomination, then little-known Barack Obama would not have been picked by John Kerry as the keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention that year…

Peter Fray

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