Book Review: The Race of a lifetime – How Obama won the White House

“Senator Clinton would like to speak to you,” one of her people told Obama. So Obama ambled over to Clinton as she stood there on the tarmac.

“I’m sorry about what Billy said,” Hilary began. “I didn’t know he was going to do that. I’m not running that kind of campaign.”

“That’s fine, Hilary,” Obama replied. “But this wasn’t an isolated incident. There were those emails Iowa……”

“Now hold on a second!” Clinton snapped, cutting Obama off, uncorking the long list of grievances she’d been stewing on for months. Bug-eyed, red-faced, waving her arms. Hilary pointed at her rival’s chest. Obama tried to calm her down by putting his hand on her shoulder- but that only made Clinton angrier. Finally, they broke from the clinch, stalking back to their respective planes.

“Wow, that was surreal,” Obama told his chief strategist. “You could see something in her eyes,” he said, something he hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was gear. Maybe desperation.

“You know what?” Obama said. “We’re doing something right.”

The Race of a lifetime – How Obama won the White House, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin is book for the fans of politiking, strategy, communications, negotiation and the general art of winning all types of games in order to win the big prize is a must.

The authors say they hope to occupy the ground that lies “between history and journalism”; their book, researched as the events were unwinding was written in hindsight as it shows how Barack Obama reaffirmed the promised, “Y es we can,” slogan and won the race to become President of the United States.

Of course the book did cover the issues of race, economy, the war in Iraq, the role of a post-Bush America and the complexities of how Americans choose their commander-in-chief.  Yet the frantic, yet detailed pace of the book sheds light in the most rivetting US presidential elections since 1960 as Barack Obama had to overcome firstly Hilary Clinton and then John McCain.

The book shows Hilary Clinton could have the endorsement of Caroline Kennedy, but because the call was made by a Hilary aide, Kennedy felt offended and gave her all to Obama, as her uncle, the late Edward Kennedy publically endorsed Obama as he felt upset at the way Hilaryland were using race as a campaign yardstick to win the extra points.

The rise and fall of John Edwards, demonstrates how bad political decisions, indecisiveness and a moment of madness could completely destroy aspiration, potential and ambition, but can turn any individual into a deluded mindset, as when the world is falling apart, they still feel powerful and confident. Politics and power it seems has this addiction as around us many the mighty and not so might have fallen, yet their fall from power is often worse, because the way they handled it. John Edwards’s affair with his web video producer, Rielle Hunter, was parody in itself. Initially denying the affair, Edwards was forced to come clean, but justified his act of madness, by stating the affair took place after his wife Elizabeth was given the all clear from cancer.  Elizabeth Edwards came worse in this journey, as the authors showed a perceived darling of the political families was actually his insecure, crazy and at times just mad. The authors show the Edwards as a couple like the Clintons who had ambition, but had no vision or steel to succeed. As the Edwards campaign was falling apart, Edwards still expected some reward from Obama, as one incident highlighted he was after a position in any future Obama administration, he’ll settle for attorney general. “How desperate is this guy?” Tom Daschle, is said to have thought. “This is ridiculous. It’s going to be ambassador to Zimbabwe next.”

The authors potray Bill Clinton as a liability to the Hilary campaign, as his constant meddling and obsession of Obama not getting a tough ride, caused deep divisions in the Hilaryland camp. Bill was one reason why top-­ranking ­Democrats sought an alternative to Hillary, even though they so feared the wrath of the Clintons that they couldn’t publicly back Obama. One senior party member says of the Bill situation: “It’s like some epic Japanese film where everyone sees the disaster coming in the third reel, but no one can figure out what to do about it.”

The book also looked at the McCain campaign, which basically was a shambles from the start, the incidents over how they chose Sarah Palin as the running mate was straight out of a scene from the hit comedy show, The Thick of It.

When complications for choosing the 2004 Democratic VP candidate, Joe Lieberman fell, the feuding McCain team quickly processed a timetable of two months into a week by vetting, choosing and introducing Palin, with the intention that the announcement will be a game changer.

Her appearance at the convention with her “lip stick” speech was a sensation, but from then it went downhill, as her obsession with note cards, expensive suits and make-up together with her moments of dimness trailed the Republican campaign to disaster. McCain’s staff  struggled to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. She did not know why  there are two countries called Korea, she thought Saddam Hussein attacked America on September 11, 2001 and even though her son was serving in Iraq, she could not say who the enemy was. McCain’s people found that things she had  told them were not quite true, and they feared at one point that she was
mentally unstable.

But the star attraction was Barack Obama, and his tale of 2008 was the key to this epic polemic. The authors show a young politician who in 2007 wasn’t exactly confident of himself and those around him, yet  by November 4th 2008, he became a political sensation with his oratory skills, the management of the Lehmann brothers crisis and how he managed to unite his Democratic party calmness and acumen which was instilled into his team consisting of political strategists like Dan Axelrod, Dan Pouffle and Robert Gibbs who ran a tightly organised political machinery who not defeated the Republican party, but also the first couple of the Democratic party, when it was needed.

The final few pages of the book is dedicated on how president-elect Obama asks his defeated Democratic colleague, Hilary Clinton to become secretary of state, even though the personal and often bitter relationship to secure the nomination would assume that it would be the last thing Obama would do.

But political maturity showed, as their past relationship was one of respect and mutual understanding as  partisan colleagues in the Senate.  When he offered her the position of secretary of state, no one on either team could believe it. Hillary, initially rejected the offer, stating she was too tired ad withdrawn from the experience of the past 18 months and had prepared a statement to that effect when she spoke to the president elect at 1am on the morning of the announcement.

On a matter close to her heart, she said (according to the authors’ ­paraphrase of the conversation): “You know my ­husband. You’ve seen what happens. We’re going to be explaining something he did every day.”

“I know,” Obama is said to have replied. “But I’m prepared to take that risk. You’re worth it. Your country needs you. I need you.”

Obama will need these skills of persuasion to win over a hostile electorate for the 2012 elections, and if he does want suggestions on how to do that, I would recommend, The Race of a lifetime – How Obama won the White House.