A little explored area of human nature is our fascination with celebrities. In the checkout line at the grocery store you will find People and the National Enquirer in front of you, both magazines having been put there so that the consumer will splurge on one before he leaves. Humans want to know every detail about the lives of those with status.
The reason for this, like the reason for most else about us, is rooted in our evolutionary history. Throughout time an average person would have had more incentive to try to figure out the thoughts and actions of a tribal leader than vice versa. The man with power can send you off to war, determine the direction that the group is going in and in some societies even take your wife. For a female, there’s a chance you may be able to secure his genes for your offspring. While the chance of your life intercrossing with that of Brad Pitt is about nil, the human machine was created well before the mass media regularly started bringing us information on those irrelevant to our existence.
There’s an old saying that “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.” One could probably add that cable news is People for nerds. When the ideal world of absolute truth and morality in the form of religion died, all that was left was jockeying for status. Since we shouldn’t try to fight human nature there’s little to be ashamed of in reading a book like Game Change.
The authors, John Heilemann of New York magazine and Mark Halperin of Time, conducted over three hundred interviews with people involved in the 2008 presidential race. Part I chronicles the epic Obama/Hillary battle of the Democratic primary, part II is on John McCain’s struggle for the Republican nomination and part III goes into the campaigns of the general election. The main impressions of this reader were a grudging respect for the Clintons and simple pity for Sarah Palin.
Hillary Clinton always expected to be the nominee for her party. She was genuinely upset about the damage that the Bush regime did to the country. While her campaign staff would worry about this or that mistake, in the end it appears that Obama was simply a better candidate and much more likable. The ultimate poetic justice was seeing the Clintons, longtime supporters of every kind of victimology, have their reputations tarnished with allegations of racism.
During the New Hampshire primary Hillary stopped at a gym and gave an interview to Fox News. They asked her how she responded to accusations that she was denigrating Martin Luther King’s memory by running against hope. Clinton responded that “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. It took a president to get it done.” Her campaign right away realized she’d made a mistake and inserted a few lines praising MLK in a speech she was to give that night.
That was nothing compared to the comment her husband would make at Dartmouth College. I write out the long quotation below so the reader can have the proper context. Clinton was going on about Obama being disingenuous on the issue of the Iraq war.
It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through fifteen debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time-not once! — “Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn’t know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war and you took that speech you’re running on off your website in 2004 and there’s no difference in your voting record and Hillary’s ever since.” Give…me…a…break. This thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen!
Based on these two statements the New York Times editorialized on January 9 that the Clinton campaign “came perilously close to injecting racial tension” into the election. Days later on the front page of that paper Black Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn would call Bill’s comments “insulting.” Heilemann and Halperin record the reaction of the Clinton camp.
Clinton’s first reaction was astonishment, followed by rage. Bill had been talking about Obama’s record on the war — nothing more. Hillary had been making a historical observation — nothing more. Their words were being twisted, bent out of shape in a way that suggested something more malign than mere misinterpretation was behind it.
The Times made Bill especially mental. “I can’t believe these assholes are sitting there writing this,” he wailed to one of many friends he called that week to complain about the editorial. “After everything I did for civil rights in Arkansas! After everything I did in the White House! They know damn well I don’t have a racist bone in my body!”
The irrationality of Blacks which had worked so well as a stick to beat conservatives over the head was now turned against them. In a typical example, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. went on MSNBC and wondered why Hillary Clinton had cried over her electoral prospects in New Hampshire but never shed a tear in public after Hurricane Katrina!
Even when the Clintons weren’t accused of racism, the issue often stopped them from effectively campaigning.
Penn and Grunwald (Clinton advisers) theorized that Obama, the darling of the left, was pandering to conservative Democrats in northern Nevada. He’s become a chameleon, one of them said.
“He has! We should call him that!” Hillary said, proposing a TV ad that somehow pictured Obama as a color-shifting lizard. “We need a visual,” she said.
“We can’t,” Grunwald replied.
“Why?” Hillary asked.
The color thing, Grunwald said. We’d get hit for dabbling with race.
“Oh Gawwwd,” Hillary groaned. “Give me a break.”
Hillary would stay in the election long past the time it was mathematically possible for her to win the nomination. All along the Clintons had an attitude of “Oh, come on. You can’t be serious about this guy.” Perhaps they were cynical manipulators who didn’t understand the extent to which many of their fellow liberals actually believed in white guilt. Obama, to his credit, seemed to impress those around him during his run.
At one of Bill’s low points he got a call from George W. Bush. 43 let 42 know that the Republican didn’t think the ex-president was racist. Clinton replied with a fifteen minute pity party on how unfair the media was. Nevertheless, despite claiming to be pure on matters of race, the former president did upset Ted Kennedy by telling him that a couple of years ago Obama would’ve been getting them coffee.
Game Change covers the implosion of the John Edwards campaign. The story is so unbelievable that it deserves to be read in full. An excerpt can be found at the website of New York magazine.
While those of us who are sane realize that the former first couple never played the race card, the McCain general election campaign was so politically correct that it would make the Clintons look like Klansmen. That didn’t stop pundits from wondering whether a campaign ad comparing Obama’s celebrity status to that of Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears stoked fears of miscegenation. Liberals also found a racial angle in a commercial that showed the Democratic nominee playing basketball.
John McCain’s victory in the Republican primaries seems to be a case of them having an election and him being the only one that didn’t have some disqualifying flaw. Giuliani was a creep that self-destructed early and was too socially liberal for the Republicans anyway. Mitt Romney’s religion made him unelectable (One old Bush hand said no way he would win as he was in a cult). And Mike Huckabee’s appeal seemed restricted to televangelists. Sometimes his campaign staff wondered if McCain even wanted to be president. He would ask them whether he was too old and if they could start the campaign later. The candidate’s indifference would be matched by that of the Republican base. Obama’s people had so much money that they were able to design campaign ads against their own candidate, test them in focus groups and develop responses. They found that ads dealing with Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers and allegations that the Democratic nominee was a Muslim were extremely effective. But the McCain camp was so broke that they were designing their commercials on the back of napkins. Even if that hadn’t been the case, the Senator himself categorically ruled out anything that would have opened him up to accusations of racism.
By August 2008 it looked like no Republican would be able to win a presidential election that year. The McCain camp knew that the vice presidential pick was the last potential game changer. The candidate wanted to select Joe Lieberman. Amazingly, nobody on his team objected on ideological grounds. The fact that the man loved war was enough to make up for him being a standard Democrat on every other issue. Unfortunately for them word got out thanks to Lindsey Graham’s big mouth and the Republicans revolted. The McCain team was then stuck without a vice presidential candidate right before the convention. Though they knew nothing about Palin and didn’t have a chance to vet her, the McCain team was convinced they needed to take a gamble in order to beat Obama.
When Steve Schmidt, the McCain campaign manager, brought Palin to the two people who would be tutoring her, he told them “She doesn’t know anything.” So she sat down with them and they went over history from World War I to today. When the teachers tried to take a break Palin would say “No, no, no, no, let’s keep going. This is awesome.” She demanded that all facts that she needed to know be written down on flash cards. Things went well at first. At the Republican National Convention when Palin gave her speech the teleprompter in front of her kept malfunctioning. McCain was impressed that she still performed well and said that if that happened with him “we’re fucked.” Thanks to the Palin pick McCain quickly went from being down by ten to even with Obama. Among White women the Republican ticket went from down ten to up by ten.
Then the media onslaught started. After one New York Times article critical of her appeared, Palin went into a funk as she was getting ready for the famous interview with Katie Couric.
Wallace (Palin’s handler) read Palin the newspaper. The candidate sat in silence. After two futile hours, as they were about to set off to meet Couric, Palin announced, “I hate this makeup” — smearing it off her face, messing up her hair, complaining that she looked fat. Wallace, in a panic, summoned the makeup artist to ride in the motorcade and repair the damage.
It was apparent that she was in way over her head. Palin would go around complaining that she wasn’t feeling well and saying she missed sleeping with her baby. The campaign speculated that she had postpartum depression. Either that or she was simply overwhelmed.
When Biden was preparing to debate Palin, he had Anita Dunn play his adversary. She used real quotes from McCain’s running mate. Biden would find these sentences so nonsensical that he would say “Is that really what she says? No, that can’t be her answer.” The only worry on the Democratic side was that their candidate would condescend to his opponent. They determined Biden would simply ignore Palin and stay focused on himself. After the debate he would comment on how hard that was.
In her own debate prep Palin would begin her answers and then get lost a couple seconds in. She would say “No, no, wait, let me start over.” Finally Schimdt threw out her index cards and demanded that she study long, detailed likely questions and answers. At one point Palin was asked to memorize a statement McCain made on the bailout and couldn’t process it.
While the Alaskan governor comes across as simply beat, the incompetence of the McCain’s team is also mind boggling. When the media would call and ask something basic about Palin’s life they didn’t have an answer. They would ask the candidate herself, but the governor would always fudge the truth so time was lost verifying what she said.
Overall, I’d say Palin has an IQ of 110 but with the temperament and personality of a prole. This explains her failure children, her petty vindictive streak, the lack of interest in the world outside of herself and worrying that she “looks fat.” Some people have argued that her IQ is average and point to the fact that she didn’t know why the Koreas were different countries or about WWI or WWII, but many who are politically aware would be shocked by what people without an active intellectual life don’t know. I’ve tried to engage doctors on politics and have seen the combination of intelligence + indifference. Don’t assume that a high IQ person will just “pick things up.” I don’t know a single player on the baseball team of the city I live by because I don’t care or associate with people who do. On the other hand, in Palin’s case there are too many indications of stupidity such as screwing up the debate prep and an inability to think on the fly. At the level of state politics in Alaska a 110 IQ + good looks might be enough to become governor. Just look at the two US Senators from that state. One went to a third tier law school and the other is the only person in the Senate without a college degree. In such an environment Palin may have flourished, but at the national level, where the main presidential candidates and the journalists all have IQs of 130 or higher, she was lost.
Winston Churchill once famously said that “Democracy is the worst form of government except all others that have ever been tried.” A strange comment from somebody who fought in World War I and led his nation in World War II, two conflicts involving democracies that put all previous wars between the old European empires to shame. At one point during the campaign Obama joked that he hoped to write a book when it was all finished called This Is Ridiculous. Indeed it is. The only requirement for participating in an election is being over 18 years old, and like the public school system, the process suffers from its low entry standards. But if our form of government has any redeeming features, it’s that the public is so fickle that it’s hard for potential tyrants to get much done these days. Let’s at least be thankful for that.