Recent events are made to feel like a Hollywood thrill-ride movie in “Double Down: Game Change 2012” (ISBN 9781594204401) a look at the 2012 presidential election from “Game Change” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Spoiler Alert: the book has a happy ending.
In prose that crackles with excitement, authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann plunk you down next to the candidates and allow you to eavesdrop on their brain trusts, friends and enemies during the presidential campaign from January, 2011, to election night in November, 2012. Despite everyone knowing the result of the voting, the authors are so good that they make the story seem like a white-knuckle adventure where the outcome is in doubt.
Lies and Damn Lies
The book opens during the dank aftermath of the Denver debate between Barack Obama and an entity that could be called The Other: a pathological liar with tax haven bank accounts and an detestable record of off-shoring American jobs. This was a horrible incident for America, one in which our collective stupidity was exposed for all the world to see.
It was galling, scary and more than a little embarrassing that a men’s magazine model in an expensive suit and carefully coifed hair would be praised as a “strong debater” after making up nonsense and spouting deceptions, distortions, and prevarications for its part of the ninety minute program.*
Despite Romney’s mountain of mendacity, strong poll results and good reviews flowed to him simply because he delivered his lies with an air of conviction. “It seemed so lifelike,” America appeared to say, inviting universal ridicule. And when sixty million people ended up voting for a candidate suffering from pseudologia fantastica, the world could not help but notice with a smirk, a laugh, and a shudder.
From the depths of our national despair, the country eventually rose up and beat back the pretender but it took two fine debate performances by Obama and a generous application of facts in shiploads of satirical and savagely biting commercials to pull off the job.
There is a strong Good vs. Evil aspect to the story. On one side was Obama and his team; on the other side were a succession of clowns, jerks, morons, convicted criminals, greedwhores, and even one certifiably insane congresswoman.
Much of the GOP sections of the book may tend to make you retch when you’re not laughing but Halperin and Heilemann work diligently to remain dispassionate and observational rather than judgmental, which is no small task.
Setting the Scene
The authors quickly sketch in the national political situation, as with Obama’s attempts to work with House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and others in the “let’s take the country back to the fifties” brigade.
Just as the Beltway panjandrums advised, he [Obama] had courted Boehner the old-fashioned way — with golf, wine, and cigarettes, away from the cameras. And it got him worse than nowhere. He had positioned himself as the capital’s reasonable grown-up. But reasonableness in the face of reckless unreasonableness looked a lot like impotence.
The style and substance of the Obama campaign was as much a reaction to public misperception of his presidency as to major policy differences with the corporatist party. Added to that was the personal style of Obama. Take Bill Clinton’s assessment of the President:
On policy, there was little daylight between them. Clinton was for the stimulus and Dodd-Frank, and was mightily impressed by Obama’s ability to get a health initiative passed, as he himself had been unable to do. At the same time, he was baffled by Obama’s failures at the basic blocking and tackling of politics, his insularity, his alienation of business. Obama got all the hard stuff right, Clinton believed, but didn’t do the easy stuff at all.
As is typical of the previous campaign book by Halperin & Heilemann, their reporting of that observation by 42 has since become a regular talking point in the media.
H&H also present to us input from everywhere: what someone said in a campaign meeting, what someone said on a campaign plane or bus, what someone said on a phone call, and so on. Their research team is amazing.
They also present the sequence of events surrounding the infamous “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” opinion piece Romney wrote for the Wall Street Journal (where it was rejected) but which was accepted for publication by David Shipley, the op-ed editor at the New York Times. Afterwards, the Romney cabal howled about how the headline was written by the Times and not Mitt, but as H&H point out:
No one at the op-ed page considered the title unfair or raised a red flag. Nor did anyone from Romneyland protest when the piece was posted to the Web on the night of November 18, when Shipley still had time to alter the headline before it appeared in the paper.
All of the really juicy bits from the campaign are covered here: Romney’s callous denigration of 47 percent of America; Romney’s flip-flopping on healthcare, contraception, and a host of issues; an Alzheimer’s-befuddled Clint Eastwood ruining the GOP convention; Romney’s “binders full of women” moment; Romney’s “corporations are people, my friend” stupidity; Obama’s devastating put-down of Romney’s ignorance with the “horses and bayonets” line; Romney’s insulting speeches overseas; Romney’s cuddling up to odious billionaires; Romney’s cuddling up to the odious Donald Trump; and more.
A word on the “47 percent” speech: also in that revealing recording was Romney’s admiration for the slave-labor camp he toured in Asia as well as his disingenuous and disgusting description of its surrounding barbed-wire fencing as having been erected to keep people out of the factory instead of trapping workers inside it. While it is shocking that the media did not devote time to this, it is disappointing that H&H also fell down on the job by ignoring it.
The business of politics can be dispiriting, and never more so than in the past half-decade of republican racism and treachery, but things aren’t helped by the media not analyzing this state of affairs or simply choosing not to report on it at all.
Despite their lapses in coverage and their codling of GOP nabobs, there are oodles of wonderful bits of writing in the book, some in every chapter. Overall, their language is clear, clean, and forceful, with only the occasional nine-dollar word, such as when they say of Newt Gingrich that “Nearly seven decades of brashness, bomb throwing, and priapism had tuckered him out” or when they refer to Romney’s cowardice with the highfalutin’ “poltroonery” in regard to the Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh situation.
Some of their writing is delightfully humorous: here’s how H&H describe Romney’s attempt to rise above the ill will from his failed 2008 campaign. “He invited reporters to off-the-record barbecues by the lake and dinners in D.C. He knew they considered him distant and robotic, and he wanted to combat that perception. (Success rate: low.)”
There is a delicious feeling of schadenfreude emanating from the sections on the republican clown parade for the nomination as one by one the candidates disqualify themselves. Writing about Jon Huntsman, they quote Obama remarking that he was the sanest of the potential opposition, and then they write that the Democratic view was “But how could that be an asset in seeking the nomination of this Republican Party?”
And there are several wonderful paragraphs about Rick Perry, the disastrous Neanderthal governor of Texas:
Watching Perry lurch from one PR disaster to another, his debate performances still desultory, Romney was baffled. “Why is he running if he doesn’t want to do this?” Mitt asked his advisors. Boston was befuddled, too, but had no intention of removing its boot from Perry’s throat. With his cash in the bank and evangelical support, Perry could still stage a comeback in Iowa — and if he did, he might pose a real threat in South Carolina and beyond.
You read that right: evangelicals are apparently ready to support someone totally incompetent as long as they possess a nineteen fifties mindset and noisily claim that they fully support Jebus.
In assessing possible running mates, Romney’s team considered a Who’s Who of the Woeful and Witless, presenting Mitt “with a list of two dozen names, which he whittled down to eleven: New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte, Texas senator John Cornyn, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Bill Frist, Mike Huckabee, Bob McDonnell, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan.”
While normal people feel their skin crawl at reading such a litany of loathsomeness, the GOPers sailed right into the so-called vetting process, which, after the Sarah Palin fiasco, they took somewhat seriously. “The procedure amounted to a political body-cavity search. There was an intrusive, seventy-plus-part questionnaire to answer, income taxes and health records to turn over, and more.”
Notice that nowhere were there any considerations of honesty, probity, decency, humanity, or patriotism. But then, when dealing with republicans, how could there be?
Most interesting here are the facts that emerged from the vetting process on the candidate who some comedians affectionately call Fat Boy (or, more directly, Fat Fuck)…
There was a 2010 Department of Justice Inspector General’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels such as the Four Seasons. (Beyond the expense abuse, the report raised questions for the vetters about Christie’s relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many of the trips.) There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official — and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies such as former attorney general John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing.
With that as a preamble to what will most likely be “Game Change 2016,” many of us can hardly wait!
The idea of plutocracy should be anathema to a majority of Americans, yet a large number of them seemed to embrace the concept in the case of Romney, perhaps because they didn’t know much about all his dirty little secrets.
Romney’s personal finances were less the elephant in the room than a full herd of pachyderms. Since the start of his Massachusetts governorship, in 2003, most of Mitt’s assets had resided in blind trusts he set up for himself, Ann, and his sons. His fortune was not only staggering in size but Byzantine in structure: some $250 million or more wrapped up in a maze-like assemblage of holdings. There were stakes in more than a dozen Bain locales — Switzerland, Luxembourg, Bermuda — that were notorious as tax havens; investments in offshore shell companies and so-called blocker corporations; an IRA that had somehow swollen in value to as much as $100 million.
H&H don’t go into how some of this is illegal or should be, or how most of it is anti-American, or how quite a bit of it was built on the backs of innocent American workers. Instead, they leave it to Gingrich to sum up Romney’s character: “…the soullessness, the malignancy, the arid amorality.”
Getting it Wrong
The authors try to achieve equilibrium by following the listing of obvious Romney defects (“a hybrid of Gordon Gekko and Mr. Magoo”) with a regurgitation of the GOP line about him: “…at that first debate, the Romney in who his advisers, friends, family, and supporters believed made a powerful appearance: a good and decent man with a formidable intellect, economic expertise, problem-solving know-how, and patriotic zeal.”
The operative word in that sentence is “believed.” Obviously, Romney is an evil blight on the American landscape, possessed of deceitful cunning rather than intellect, and just as un-patriotic as every member of what is becoming known as The Treason Party. But as one can see with Romney, Marco Rubio, Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and their ilk, lunacy and treachery don’t matter in the GOP because a candidate’s paid advisors, rich cronies, and brain-dead followers are happy to believe anything.
Like most of the mainstream media, pulling their punches is another way the writers try to placate the regressive forces of republicanism, which they presumably justify in the mistaken belief that they are supposed to achieve balance in their reporting. One tiny example: they say of Obama that “he had proven almost entirely imperious to the right-wing hit machine.” That would have been more accurate as “right-wing hate machine.”
One rare occasion where they unload some truth tonnage is in dealing with the distasteful birther nonsense: “For two years, the conservative quadrants of the freak show had labored to delegitimize Obama, often in race-freighted fashion,” they write. They don’t go nearly far enough in discussing the race-baiting of the GOP in general or its candidates and surrogates in particular, but it’s nice to see the issue raised at least once in the book.
Like kryptonite affecting Superman, facts weaken a Romney. Or any republican for that matter. And the Obama campaign grabbed a few basic facts about #UnfitMitt (one of the best hashtags of the election), put them into a batch of deliberately artless but hard-hitting commercials, and slammed them at Internet and TV viewers in every state where there was a possibility of overcoming the GOP’s moron base. And as Nate Silver predicted would happen in his assessment of the polling, Obama ultimately triumphed over the demon forces of the right-wing nut jobs.
The republicans had their Seven Pillars of Perfidy: misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, plutocracy, theocracy, racism, and Fascism, which are attractive to the imbecilic; but the Obama campaign had facts and human decency, which are attractive to the rest of us.
For anyone who has a soul — and an I.Q. above 80 — the outcome of the election produced a collective sigh of relief, and that is felt at the end of the book although without the authors mentioning it because they want to appear objective so as to preserve access to the troglodytes in future elections and in their writing of additional books.
In terms of telling it like it is, the FLOTUS and the POTUS cannot be faulted here. Michelle Obama says at one point, “Romney is a really good liar.” And an annoyed Barack Obama complains about Romney during debate preparations, “But what am I supposed to do when he starts spewing his bullshit?”
BTW, the book’s generally good Index contains no listing of Romney’s lying but at least there is this helpful entry: “Romney, gaffes of, 261, 262, 279, 280, 284, 289, 470.” A few more occurred, but that’s part of the fun of reading “Double Down.”
The book is superb. Really! Despite my niggling around the edges, this book is beautifully written and great entertainment. Just keep in mind that Halperin and Heilemann offer little assessment of just how middle-of-the-road Obama has had to be as president, or of how republican obstructionism has prevented the nation from moving as far forward as might have been possible. But that could be another book.
*Among the many Mittwhoppers in the Denver debate that are unfortunately mostly overlooked by Halperin and Heilemann were the following: (1) Romney claimed that Obama had doubled the deficit when it had actually gone down. (2) Romney claimed that Obama had cut $716 billion from Medicare when that was the amount of waste that had been removed from the system. (3) Romney averred that the Affordable Care Act would tell people what kind of care they could obtain — although that was expressly forbidden in the law. (4) Romney claimed that “up to 20 million people will lose their insurance as Obamacare goes into effect.” Yes, if by “up to 20 million” he meant “some people will switch from employer plans to their own plans.” (5) Romney spouted the hoary GOPism that Obama’s budget called for “more government” when Obama had already slashed government spending by two trillion dollars and the new budget contained another trillion dollars in cuts. (6) Romney pontificated that the national budget couldn’t be balanced by raising taxes, thus overlooking Bill Clinton’s presidency where a tax hike on the top two percent of earners helped do just that. (7) Romney pledged that he would not propose a tax cut that added to the deficit, which was totally and absolutely true except for his own budget’s estimated deficit increase of $4.8 trillion over the next ten years. (8) Romney claimed that “about half” of government-funded clean energy businesses failed; in this assertion of a 50 percent failure rate, he came oh-so-close: the actual figure was 1.4 percent. (9) Romney insisted his financial plan was something new when it was basically the same old disproven “trickle-down” voodoo economics. (10) Romney assured seniors that Social Security would be safe in his hands when even Bloomberg News reported on his plans for short-changing seniors. (11) Romney said he wouldn’t cut funding for education, yet his plan had a decade-long $115 billion reduction built into it.
There were other prevarications and distortions in Romney’s statements and the estimate was that he spewed a lie every two-and-a-half minutes during the debate, which certainly must be a modern-day record. The sixty million people who voted for the GOP’s Richie Rich candidate should be ashamed of themselves. But again, that could be another book.
More information from the publisher’s website: http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781594204401,00.html .
Mitt 47% video:
This original review is Copr. © 2013 by John Scott G and originally published on PublishersNewswire.com – all commercial and reprint rights reserved. No fee or other consideration was paid to the reviewer, this site or its publisher by any third party for this unbiased article. Editorial illustration based on book jacket created by Christopher L. Simmons. Reproduction or republication in whole or in part without express permission is prohibited except under fair use provisions of international copyright law.