5 revelations from 'Game Change'

With an election season like this, who needs entertainment? Just as the 2012 presidential nominating race is heating up, HBO is resurrecting the stranger-than-fiction 2008 contest with "Game Change," a TV movie directed by Jay Roach and adapted by Danny Strong from John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book of the same title. Starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and Ed Harris as John McCain, the movie explores the explosive personalities, marital problems, and character quirks that made the 2008 election “the race of a lifetime,” as the book’s subtitle suggests. Before watching the movie, it’s worth taking a second look at the book and its often disturbing revelations. Here, then, in our opinion, are the 5 most interesting revelations from “Game Change.” (Warning: No one emerges from these pages looking very good.)

1.Elizabeth Edwards’s badgering, bullying behavior

By Mark Duncan/STF/AP

For all its revelations about Sarah Palin, when “Game Change” first came out, perhaps the biggest bubble it burst was that of Elizabeth Edwards' reputation as an angelic, courageous heroine.

In the book, Edwards’s behavior outdid even her husband’s infatuation with video maker Rielle Hunter, a relationship that was the ultimate downfall of his campaign. Heilemann and Halperin write that John Edwards’s aides “regarded [Elizabeth Edwards] as a badgering, often irrational presence on the campaign,” writes The New York Times

“The nearly universal assessment among them,” Halperin and Heilemann write of the Edwards’s aides, “was that there was no one on the national stage for whom the disparity between public image and private reality was vaster or more disturbing. What the world saw in Elizabeth: a valiant, determined, heroic everywoman. What the Edwards insiders saw: an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending crazywoman.”

[Considering the audacity of the book’s assertions, we should point out that Halperin and Heilemann rely heavily on unnamed sources, deep background, and in some cases, speculation.]

Sarah Palin's utter incompetence

By J. Scott Applewhite/STF/AP

Senator John McCain’s running mate was ripped apart by the press long before she landed in the pages of “Game Change.” But Halperin and Heilemann crystallize the whispers and rumors from the campaign trail into a particularly damning portrait in the book.

Palin, who was thoroughly unversed in foreign affairs, is described as unresponsive, even immature in her interview and debate preparation sessions.

“When her aides tried to quiz her, she would routinely shut down,” the authors write. “Chin on her chest, arms folded, eyes cast to the floor, speechless and motionless, lost in what those around her described as a kind of catatonic stupor.”

Even more chilling were the campaign staff members’ fear of a “threatening possibility: that Palin was mentally unstable.” McCain’s top lieutenants had discussed what to do with Palin if their candidate actually won in November. They decided, write Heilemann and Halperin, to relegate Palin “to the largely ceremonial role that premodern vice presidents inhabited”: “it was inconceivable” that “if McCain fell ill or died, the country be left in the hands of a President Palin.”

Hillary Clinton's unbridled self-assurance

Gary Cameron/Reuters

“Prideful, aggrieved, confused – and still high on the notion she was leading an army, Napoleon in a navy pantsuit and gumball-sized fake pearls.”

So begins the damning portrait Heilemann and Halperin paint of then-Senator Clinton.

Perceiving the young senator from Illinois as a mere distraction, Clinton expected to coast to victory in the nominating contest, according to “Game Change.” “Hillary could still barely fathom that he was in the race at all,” Heilemann and Halperin write.

As early as 18 months before the November general election, Clinton began contemplating whom she would choose as her running mate and considering her transition to the White House. She “had already determined without a sliver of doubt that she was not going to choose Obama,” the authors write. She had even asked Roger Altman, deputy Treasury secretary in her husband’s administration, to lead a secret project planning her transition to the White House.

The worst blow came in Iowa, when Clinton lost the state primary, according to Heilemann and Halperin. As her “senior-most lieutenants” watched her “bitter and befuddled reaction,” they write, they thought, “This woman shouldn’t be president.”

The McCains' marital spats

By Joshua Lott/Reuters

“Game Change” depicts the McCains as a warring couple, fraying under the pressure of a relentless campaign.

“The McCains fought in front of others, during small meetings and before large events, to the amazement and discomfort of the staff,” the authors write. Cindy McCain was so distressed by the campaign, they allege, that she accused her husband of ruining her life and told him she never wanted him to run for president again, according to a 2011 New York Times review.

The marital discord was palpable, write Heilemann and Halperin. “When it came time to film campaign videos of the couple, the camera crews had to roll for hours to capture a few minutes of warmth.”

Barack Obama's confidence-bordering-on-arrogance

Charles Dharapak/STF/AP

Perhaps because he went on to capture the nomination – and the White House – “Game Change” goes easiest on Obama. Still, even the President can’t escape the authors’ scrutiny. Though his marriage and family life are described as ideal (“Obama adored his wife” and “didn’t even bother to pretend that he enjoyed anyone else’s company remotely as much as he relished being with her and their daughters”), his confidence in the campaign was depicted as almost blameworthy.

Writes Cleveland Plain Dealer reviewer Karen Long, “Before Barack Obama strode onto the national stage in Boston to deliver his electric, now legendary keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention, a reporter asked the Illinois state legislator about his nerves.

‘I'm LeBron, baby,’ Obama replied. ‘I can play on this level. I got some game.’”

“His calmness and composure could veer into the freakish, and sometimes concealed his gaudy confidence in himself,” write the authors.