Game Change: Losers Are…Well, Losers

Jan 14, 10 | 7:36 AM   byMichael Wolff
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There’s a new book about the 2008 presidential campaign, Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, that’s causing a big stir because it has found out that every candidate is an incredibly dysfunctional person with a really rotten marriage. That is, except for Barack Obama, who is mostly very competent and who has a basically excellent marriage.

This might be one of the main reasons he won, because he’s the only person in the race who wasn’t a mess. Or, it could be that because he won, there is nobody to say he is a mess.

Game Change is a book that overflows with the voices of people who feel they were ill-served and mistreated. It’s a book about staff revenge.

One of the evident themes in the book, although one not explored by its authors (they may not even be aware of it), is that presidential campaigns have become so long, so arduous, so expensive, so fraught, so abusive to all who participate in them, that nobody—save perhaps the winner—emerges with his sanity intact. In other words, the people who accompany the candidate end up just as nutty, or even more nutty, than the candidate. If you lie down with flies you wake up with them—and then you give your venomous spiel of grief and recrimination to the authors of this book.

The winner is mostly saved from this treatment because his staff still has a job. Being able to offer a paycheck and an upward career trajectory gives you a large amount of protection. Not being able to provide this opens you up to the bitterness of young men and women whose improbable dreams died long, drawn out, and melodramatic deaths. Presidential campaigns are such entrepreneurial and speculative ventures, involving all kinds of over-the-top promises and visions of grandeur, that when they collapse it is all rather Enron-ish.

The book offers so many tabloid details about each of the 2008 candidates in part because it is written in a tabloid style. That is, the form produces the salaciousness. It’s a pile-on of short, staccato sentences, each containing a reductive tidbit about behavior or emotion. Even if much of this is literally true (which it may not be) it is not actually true. Rather, it is a journalistic process of magnification and distortion. You filter allegations of one person’s dysfunction through the dysfunction of others. While many of the facts may stand up, the truth really doesn’t.

It was bound to happen that the language and style of celebrity tabloid coverage would come to politics. For one thing, it makes politics more interesting. It seems to humanize these largely impersonal men (and Hillary Clinton—always among the most impersonal of politicians), by shining a terrible light on their greatest moments of weakness. It punishes them too for their great hubris in even thinking they should run for president.

And for a journalist, it’s a pretty easy book to write when you realize how many people from losing campaigns—disgruntled former employees all of them—are out there, nursing their wounds.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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