Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gotta Have that Book

Doesn’t it happen to you, too? Once in a while you hear about a book – perhaps on the radio – and you just have gotta have that book. Right now!
by Charlie Leck

[Post edited signficantly, with corrections, on 17 January 2010]

The fabulous Missus came home last night and told me she’d been to the book store, trying to get a book for me. She said she’d heard the author on the radio and the book sounded right up my alley.

“You know you shouldn’t buy books for me,” said I. “I like to buy my own.”

“Yes, but this one is right up your alley. I know you’ll love it.”

“Okay. What’s the title? Who’s the author?”

“Uhh! I forgot. But, I heard the author interviewed on public radio and it sounded just like the stuff you enjoy – it was about the campaign last year and how it worked. Hillary played a little dirty. So did some other candidates. There’s a lot of controversy about the book. It’s gotten plenty of people angry.”

“Which radio show?”

“Uhh! I don’t remember. It was in the afternoon. The major part of the book deals with the campaign, but it’s also about Obama’s change from candidate to President. It’s gotten remarkably good reviews.”

My taste is strange. I rarely pay new price for a book. I buy a lot of books for a dollar. I don’t care if they're five or six years old. Yet, once in a while a new book comes out and I’ve just got to have it – like THE CLINTON TAPES. I heard its author, Taylor Branch, interviewed on public radio and I just had to run out and pick up a copy. Taylor Branch is a terrific writer (PARTING THE WATERS).

The extraordinary woman in my life had piqued my curiosity. I hit the computer and searched the afternoon schedule of the public radio station. Suddenly, there it was. I found it. I clicked the little magical button, (How did they ever invent this extraordinary Internet?) and there it was – the entire interview with author John Heilemann about a new book he wrote with Mark Halperin, GAME CHANGE.

I sat, spellbound, in front of my computer and listened to the interview from top to bottom. The star of my life was correct. My blood heated up and my heart was pumpin’ and my corpuscles were jumpin’ and I had to get this book.

Heilemann writes for New Yorker Magazine. He’s well known and a quality writer. Halperin is an editor and political analyst for Time Magazine who has covered 6 presidential elections. I’ve got to have this book.

Heilemann called it a “fire storm” – this reaction to the book. He hadn’t expected it. Everyone’s talking about the book. Lots of people are buying it. What a wonderful combination!

"Why’d you write the book?" The interviewer cut to the chase and posed the question bluntly. Heilemann stumbled for a moment and then smoothly answered.

“… the book covers the entire 2008 election, and you know, part of the reason why we sat down to write it in the first place was that, as we say and as the subtitle indicates, you know, we thought it was the race of a lifetime, and there were so many pieces of it that were historic.

“I don't think we'll ever see an election like this in our lifetimes again, where you have the election of the first African-American president, the first female - plausible female candidate for president in Hillary Clinton, the rise of Sarah Palin, which has obviously led to a whole movement in the Republican Party that's kind of transforming the Republican Party. Those are all big pieces. You also had John McCain, who in any normal year would have been a figure of kind of - would have been a facile, kind of celebrity figure and the most interesting person in the race, and in this campaign, he was the fourth-or fifth-most-interesting person in the race.

“But as you point out, the arc of Obama, the unknown Barack Obama, coming to the Senate and getting it into his head that he can win against the formidable frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, how he did that and how the two of them end up on the same side at the end of the book is obviously probably the overarching, single-most kind of historically important narrative in the entire book.”
Let me guaranty you, though it is already Saturday morning, before the weekend is done, I’ll be into this book. My eyes are bothering me these days and I’ve been advised not to drive, but I’ll somehow roll the car through the streets to the bookstore, so I can pick up a copy. Naturally, you’ll hear more about it next week.

Ken Rudin, the Political Junkie and a regular guest on Talk of the Nation, explained my feelings precisely.

“John, what I found so fascinating about this book is that: one, before I opened it, I figured look, here we go again. We know everything that happened. Some guy named Obama won. We know the other people lost, and that would be the end of it. And yet I could not - I still haven't been able to put this book down. I also want to say it's really well-written, and it's a great book.

“What I found most fascinating, not only watching the Obama thing, the way the Obama people thought about whether he could actually run and win, but to watch what Hillary Clinton had to go through, knowing the vulnerabilities, knowing the problems with Bill Clinton and yet how she so carefully tried to make herself the
inevitable candidate and watch it fall apart on her face.”
The book is the product of more than 300 interviews and over 200 sources. Both of the authors actively covered the campaign. Heilemann kept stirring my juices as I listened to the interview.

“…we penetrated into the Clintons' world in a way I think very few authors ever have before. And the story that you tell there, again another historic theme of this book, is, you know, the down - the fall of the House of Clinton. They had been the dominant family in American politics for the past generation, and how Hillary Clinton missed her opportunity in 2004.

“One of the big pieces of news in the book that's also been ignored a little bit is how close she came to running, Hillary did, in 2004. We argue in the book that she - it was probably a better chance for her than in 2008, and in some ways, by not running in 2004, she opened the door to Barack Obama. She opened the door to John Kerry getting the nomination, who then named Obama his keynote speaker in 2004. How she then decides, having not run in 2004, that 2008 will be her year and goes through, as you said, all of the vulnerabilities, fights them all off, fends off the concerns about her husband, fends off all of those problems, manages to put herself in this - what seems to be an unassailable frontrunner's position and then manages to see it all snatched away by this most unlikely challenger in the person of Barack Obama.”
Heilemann’s description of John and Elizabeth Edwards and their part in the great story of this campaign was one of the most intriguing elements in the interview. I’m not sure I want to dig that deeply into Elizabeth Edwards’ emotional catastrophe during this campaign, but, on the other hand, the way Heilemann depicts it makes it irresistible.

Sarah Palin is a big part of the story of the 2008 campaign and Heilemann carefully detailed how they sourced the material they wrote about Palin (because she has refuted much of what they say and called it “untrue”).

“It’s true. And - I mean, I - Sarah Palin took issue with a number of things on television the other night. All I can say is that in that -in the case of Sarah Palin is that we, again, what kind of like the Clintons, I think we penetrated into Sarah Palin's world in a way that very few others have. We were - we spoke to - as you probably know, there were warring camps to the McCain campaign. There were people who were very sympathetic to Sarah Palin. There are people who also are very - who were very critical of Sarah Palin. We spoke to all of them.

“And on every single story of a factual nature of the conduct that we're talking about here, things that were gaps in her knowledge, we had confirmations on those stories from people who were in both camps - people who were critics and people who were sympathetic. And so I understand why she feels the need to deny those stories, because they're embarrassing, but we're very comfortable with them and feel that they are - we stand by them 100 percent.”
The disheartening thing to hear was that the book is gosh darn hard to find. It has sold so well that most bookstores are out of it. Drat! I get these buzzes on about books and I can’t stand waiting for them.

If you’ve read the book already, let’s hear from you about it. As soon as I can read it, you’ll be getting my report.

[To read the entire Talk of the Nation interview or to listen to it, click here!]

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