Yesterday I posted this: “People’s life stories tend to be told as a series of big, “seminal events” and accomplishments that appear to have a direct logic between them. There is a sense of movement and distinct decision points. (I’ve made arguments about this view being fallacious and un-useful, so I had to kind of re-establish this idea- it’s popular).”
“Game Change 2” has just been published, and horse-race junkies currently feeling the aches and fevers of election withdrawal (Virginia and New Jersey’s gubernatorial races — much less New York’s puny mayoral race — hardly provided a fix) are rejoicing. As well they should. “Game Change 2” — the actual title is “Double Down: Game Change 2012” — is a joyous romp through the seedy underbelly of presidential campaigning. It’s a cure for the off-year shakes.
It’s also a marvel of reporting. Any time three staff members met in a room to badmouth a colleague or a candidate admitted to a moment of stress or self-doubt, authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin appear to have been sitting in the corner, scribbling notes.
But when you buy “Game Change 2,” you should also buy its opposite — “The Gamble,” by political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck (you might know Sides from the awesome “Monkey Cage” blog). It, too, is an account of the 2012 election. But it signals its contrasting point of view in its first sentence: “68,” the authors wrote. “That is how many moments were described as ‘game-changers’ in the 2012 presidential election.” The rest of the book is dedicated to proving that almost none truly were.
The book lays bare news media bias. It’s not in favor of Republicans or Democrats, however, but of volatility and sensationalism. The news media overestimate the effects of micro events (those 68 “game-changers”) and underestimate the relatively stable foundation — partisanship, the state of the economy — on which those events play out.
The day before the 2012 election, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote: ‘‘We begin with the three words everyone writing about the election must say: Nobody knows anything. Everyone is guessing.’’ By that point, reams of data had been collected, and they were clearly pointing to an Obama victory. Noonan and others were simply stumping for the news media’s perennial favorite candidate: excitement.
There’s no better book than ‘‘Double Down” for reliving that excitement. But there’s no better book for understanding it — and the political structures that will continue shaping U.S. elections in 2016 and beyond — than “The Gamble.” For campaign journalism, the book is a game-changer.
Not that I didn’t enjoy all of the juicy tidbits of behind-the-scenes moments with our favorite heroes and villains of the 2012 cycle that the book has released into the media. I just can’t take it too seriously as an education tool.
Other posts on this issue: