Things Michael Kinsley remarks on in his review of Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann: Big words; excrement; umbrage politics; jargon; campaign journalists; trivial reporting; professional consultants; vomit; gaffes; horse-race reporting.
Things that Michael Kinsley leaves out of his review of Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann: Race (no, a paragraph at the end doesn’t suffice); partisanship; the federal government’s dysfunction and its effect on elections; the federal government’s dysfunction and its effect on policy; the Tea Party; income inequality; the Occupy Movement; the national security state and Obama’s capture by it; the effect of micro targeting on elections; and I’m sure I could keep going if I felt like it.
The most valuable reviewing space in the United States – the front page of the New York Times book review section – gets occupied by:
“Chasmal.” Is that a word? Here, I’ll use it in a sentence for you: “Santorum had been turfed out of office in 2006, losing his re-election bid by a chasmal 18-point margin.” According to Merriam Webster, it is indeed a word, meaning “resembling a chasm.” In other words, Santorum got beaten badly. But why use other words, when “chasmal” is available? How about “suasive,” as in: “Romney was aware of how jaundiced Stevens was about Christie — which made Stuart’s advocacy for choosing the guy as V.P. all the more suasive”? From the context, it must mean the same as “persuasive,” and you do save three characters, if you’re short on space.
Kinsley does point out that Halperin and Heilemann are attempting to take the mantle of Theodore White, the pioneer of the popular campaign-as-narrative book, but he fails to note that we know a lot more about elections now than when White was writing. Some of that has less to do with the understandings of political science than with a newfound ability and willingness to communicate that understanding to the larger world. It also has to do with a better knowledge of how larger factors – the economy, etc – affect political races, and increasingly insightful analytical tools. One of the most fascinating things about the 2012 election was the way in which those tools became omnipresent in the discussion around the race, and towards the end, a part of the race itself. Nate Silver became a talisman for Democrats after Obama’s epically bad first debate, and a target for Republicans trying to unskew his influence.
There’s little of that in the book or review: the focus in both is so overwhelmingly on the trees that somehow, curiously, we lose any sense that we’re in a forest. Instead, the narrative and the critique zoom in on the same Borgian details of court life (for what is an election but a large medieval court, with royalty, rivalries, courtiers, and betrayal?) Outside, the children may be rhyming of the plague – ring around the rosy* – but inside it’s all about what gaffe Mitt made, or who leaked information to Politico, or what political operative is jumping ship to another campaign. These are the small, precise, and trivial details that Halperin, Heilemann, and Kinsley think defining when they are really electoral minutiae dressed for the masquerade.
*Which rhyme is apparently not about the Black Death, but I’m using the invocation anyway.