This Wednesday, SIPA and the J-school invited authors of Game Change John Heilemann and Mark Halperin to discuss their book about the 2008 presidential campaign in light of the upcoming election season. Bwog’s Political Lit Bureau Chief Rebecca Newman reports.
To Heilemann and Halperin, Game Change is and always has been about the characters. The two authors wanted to write a book about the presidential campaign’s drama and significance, but books that cover strategy and a timeline of events are rarely a commercially viable enterprise – especially in an election so thoroughly covered by the media. So instead, they decided to create a narrative work that reads like a novel, but whose drama, twists and turns, and relationships are all real, and revolve around the main contenders for the position of 44th President of the United States.
There was one rule Heilemann and Halperin stuck to when writing Game Change: “If it’s not interesting, it’s not going into the book.” This wasn’t very hard to do. Heilemann describes the effect that a presidential election has on the relationships between the people involved as similar to a “meat grinder/flash incinerator.” The two journalists took testimonials from over 200 people who shared stories from the campaign trail, covering the hidden drama, the character flaws and the real egos seen after the cameras stopped rolling.
The authors pride their book on its non-partisanship, and feel that they successfully portrayed every character and candidate with a balance of positive and negative traits, regardless of their party affiliation. Heilemann stressed that reporting today has evolved into hyperbolizing the political debate, and he wanted to avoid making Game Change yet another shouting match.
When one reader argued that Obama was portrayed much more favorably, Heilemann pointed out some of the negative things that the book revealed. He also said that the most shocking revelations are really the result of a large gap between candidates’ public images and their private lives. Since Obama’s private reality is very close to his public image, there is less “negative attention” towards him. On the other hand, there was a huge gap between John Edwards’s public and private lives, and so he appeared in a more negative light. Heilemann also added, “Obama comes off looking good in the book compared to Edwards, but Obama is probably a better guy than Edwards, I think we can all agree.”
The moderator, Alan Brinkley, noted that since the 1960’s when the first campaign books came out about Kennedy and Nixon, Game Change is the first to have undertaken the task as a serious journalistic effort.