I spent most of 2009 refusing to read (or even acknowledge) any of the various biographies of Barack Obama or accounts of the 2008 election. It was, quite frankly, just "too soon" for me to relive all of the drama and frustration that went along with rooting against Obama in 2008.
Indeed, for most of 2009, it was hard not to feel as if I was trapped in some sort of Orwellian satire. It all left me feeling as if I was being brainwashed: the constant fawning news reports (remember that night that Katie Couric devoted all 30 minutes of her newscast to one story entitled "The stimulus at work?"), the nonstop live coverage of Obama giving speech after speech, and the apparent inability of anyone to apply common sense to any of Obama's claims or policies. For much of 2009, it seemed like the only way to remain neither paranoid nor brainwashed was to simply pretend as if the 2008 election has never happened and as if Barack Obama was just some idealized character from a lost Upton Sinclair novel.
However, I am happy to say that enough time has finally passed and the passions surrounding Obama have cooled to the extent that I feel it is safe now to look back on 2008. Regardless of the results, it was a fun election to observe and, at the very least, one can hope that it will remind us why, in the past, it was preferable to elect even men such as Richard Nixon over ideologues like George McGovern (or Barack Obama, for that matter).
For that reason, I have started reading Game Changeby John Heileman and Mark Halperin. Game Changeis an account of the 2008 election and it's received a bit of attention for revealing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once said that Obama was electable because he was "light-skinned" and didn't have a "Negro accent." When the book was published, Reid apologized to Barack Obama for his comments. Obama, of course, accepted the apology and why shouldn't he? From Reid's point of view, he was praising Obama. If anything, Reid should have apologized to every dark-skinned African-American who does have a "negro" accent.
But that said, the whole controversy over Reid's comments have overshadowed the fact that the book's portraits of the three Democratic front runners are far more devastating than the unsurprising revelation that the 70 year-old Reid still uses the word "negro" in casual conversation. While it's not surprising to see Obama described as being arrogant or Hillary Clinton as shrill, the picture given of John and Elizabeth Edwards is a real eye-opener.
Of course, it was already obvious (even before the Reille Hunter affair came to light) that John Edwards was an empty suit and most already suspected that Elizabeth Edwards, illness aside, was hardly the saint she was frequently portrayed to be.
However, when reading Game Change, it's hard to avoid suspecting that, along with being shallow and rather vain, John Edwards was, in fact, delusional to the point of being mentally unstable.
For instance, consider the scene in which Edwards and a close campaign aide argue about the constant presence of Reille Hunter in John's entourage. Remember, this is before the Democratic primaries, before the rise of Obama, before the National Enquirer first reported that Edwards had a mistress, and before Hunter ended up pregnant with John's child. Edwards, according to Game Change, attacked the campaign aide for not confronting him directly with the rumors about Hunter. John Edwards then added, "Why didn't you come to me like a fucking man and tell me to stop fucking her!?"
(Remember, Edwards said this even though, at the time, he was still insisting to everyone in his campaign that he wasn't having an affair to Hunter.)
To call that line a Freudian slip is to a disservice to Freudian slips. Taking everything we know to be true into account, that line (if the book is to be believed and Edwards actually said it) would seem to indicate a man who could not control his self-destructive impulses and who was dependent on others to tell him to take the most common sense of actions.
As for Elizabeth -- well, where to begin? Whether threatening to cancel the health insurance of campaign workers or (again, according to Game Change) ripping open her blouse and screaming, "Look at me!" while arguing with her husband, Elizabeth Edwards comes across as perhaps even more unstable as her husband. Perhaps Elizabeth's defining moment comes in the aftermath of the first, little-noted Enquirer story in which she calls a staffer she blamed for allowing the story to leak to the public and is quoted as saying, "...You are poison! You're dead to us!"
If nothing else, Game Change offers us some hope as we prepare for, at the very least, three more years of Barack Obama.
If nothing else, at least he isn't John Edwards.