Tuesday, December 17, 2013

book review: Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

The backstory: After reading (and loving) Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's first book, Game Change, about the 2008 U.S. presidential election, I grabbed a copy of their follow up, Double Down, which chronicles the 2012 election, as soon as my library had it.

My thoughts: Admittedly, I'm fascinated by politics. I won't go as far to say I enjoy it most of the time, as I far too often find the antics and actions of politicians maddening, but I do love it in retrospect. Looking back at the minutiae of how elections are won and last, bills are passed, and scandals embraced or ruined fascinate me. Double Down offers all of those things and more. It begins with a prologue of the first debate between Romney and Obama (remember the one when Obama bombed and Romney came off as charming and likeable?) Then the book shifts back to the beginning of the 2012 campaign.

Much of what I loved about Game Change was the lengthy piece about the Iowa caucuses in 2008. It was my first time living in Iowa and participating in these first in the nation events, and both parties had wide open races. That wasn't the case in Iowa in 2012. Obama was the Democratic nominee and Romney was an early national front-runner. In this election, there was so much more drama behind the scenes in the Republican race, and one of my favorite chapters in this book was the one detailing all of the qualified, popular, and well-respected Republicans who opted not to run for a variety of reasons. As fascinating as these insights were, within them is a reminder of why my fascination with politics fares better in hindsight than the present: our election system does not entice the best, most-qualified candidates to run. I also think it's a refreshingly reasonable decision to not want to be president (or go through the brutal election for a chance at the job.)

As with Game Change, my favorite parts of Double Down were the earlier parts, simply because the narrative at the time was so muddled. In the summer of 2011, the Republican nominating contest was a delightful (or appalling, depending on your take) circus to watch...if it weren't part of the process of choosing a president. At the time I found it stressful, but in retrospect, it was fascinating and amusing to relive.

Because I read Double Down only one year after the election, its final chapters held fewer surprises for me. I followed the general election carefully and watched at least an hour of political news coverage each day. Halperin and Heilemann do a wonderful job of placing each event into current and recent historical context, but with the details so fresh in my mind, there were few surprises. It's certainly not a fault of Halperin and Heilemann, but I think I would have enjoyed the ending chapters more if I read them in a few years.

The highlight of Double Down was once again the part closest to my life. In this case, it was the night before the election when Michelle and Barack came to Des Moines. Our little city may play an important role in the beginning of campaigns, but it was a shock to have the president spend his last day of reelection campaigning right here. Mr. Nomadreader and I were there that night, sitting outside on a very cold night, first listening to Bruce Springsteen play, then cheering for Michelle, and finally crying along with President Obama as he gratefully recounted the role Iowa played in his first presidential election. To have caucused for Obama in 2008 with my heart full of hope and to have shared that moment with him (and thousands of others) the night before the 2012 election was a poetic bookend for me. I cried again as I read Halperin and Heilemann recount that night, which will always be a very special one for me.

Favorite passage:  This example of Mitt Romney valuing fitness: "Oh, there’s your date for tonight," he would say to male members of his traveling crew when they spied a chunky lady on the street."

The verdict: Double Down is as fascinating, beguilling, intriguing, depressing, frustrating and hopeful as the presidential election it recounts. There were moments I muttered "I can't believe that really happened," and moments I laughed and smiled while saying the same words. It's faithful, entertaining account of a fascinating election.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 512 pages
Publication date: November 5, 2013
Source: library

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  1. EEEE, I could never read a book like this -- my blood would boil! Their previous book was the basis of the HBO movie about Palin, right? I enjoyed it -- and found it very shocking!

    1. Ha! That's why I do better with it in the rearview mirror! Yes, the first one was the basis of the Palin movie, but that was really a small part of the book (albeit a fascinating part!)


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