For Christmas this year my brother gave me a copy of David Plouffe’s book, The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory. This was one of several books he gave me, but when I opened it I saw my mom make a funny face, and as I held up the gift to show everyone what it was (just something we do on xmas morning), she dismissed it, saying: “I can’t imagine reading anything more boring.”
I, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine reading anything more fascinating. I was captivated by not just the campaign but, more importantly, by the candidate. I’m still captivated by the President himself, as well as his family. I was a very early contributor to his campaign, in the beginning days of the primaries back in 2007. I remember walking down the street with my partner one day in early spring, remarking that I was thinking about donating to the Obama for America campaign and what did he think about that? We talked about it and I ended up making what became the first of many contributions over that two year period. J never told me who he supported during the primaries, or who he voted for. But I was energized by Obama from a very early point. That’s why this book fascinated me so much, because I was one of the countless millions of people who was inspired by the political process in ways I had never been before; inspired by a candidate who — a test — I still find inspirational. Mom’s comment was evidence of the tired, detached, apathetic, and partisan relationship to the process to which the Obama campaign provided a welcome antidote (no wonder they won the young vote — much younger than me! — by such an overwhelming majority).
Anyway, I just finished the book, and it did not disappoint. David Plouffe is sort of a clinical writer — chronological, succinct, and with very little drama that seemed to reflect the no-drama-Obama mantra for which the campaign was known. And yet, it was still a nail biter! I mean, we all know what happens in the end. They succeeded; he won. But I was still fascinated to read about the campaign’s internal, in-the-moment perception of things: Hillary during the primary; McCain during the general; and the media throughout. And the little stories that we would otherwise have no way of knowing (like Plouffe’s own observation of the President-elect looking up at Abraham Lincoln’s statue during the pre-inaugural Concert for America and the conversation to which that led [read the book]).
Most of all, now that hope has become either the object of ridicule (the charge is naivete, platitude; the new slogan: Nope!) or otherwise once again been relegated to the dust bin, this book made me feel justified in, more than a year later, still feeling hopeful. Because I do, although I don’t admit it very often.
In the epilogue Plouffe writes (pardon the long quote): “He’s not terribly interested in the same old arguments and debates or conventional reasons why things can’t be done. He pushes and challenges, but he also doesn’t want to tilt at windmills. Wiping the slate clean, looking at things differently — as we did in both the primary and general — and deciding on a course based on sound analysis and research is an Obama hallmark, one that I believe will serve the country well.
“Of course, when you do this, the cynics and purveyors of conventional wisdom howl in protest. In Washington, many focus more on what can’t be done than on what can be. One of the president’s great strengths, and therefore his organization’s strength, is his discipline: once a course has been set, he is determined not to let a chorus of critics alter that game plan. I saw this commitment over and over again in the campaign when it came to message and strategy, and I can see it coming into play now as the White House tackles the hard work of stabilizing the economy, passing health insurance reform, and creating an energy revolution in America.
“His efforts will be graded daily by the pundits, and polls will be thrown around as evidence of progress or setbacks, but he will keep the ship steady, focused on achieving an end result that will improve the lives of Americans. Without this discipline and long-range focus, change would be impossible to bring about in Washington, a city where every bump, real or imagined, is treated as a permanent setback. The president does not view his work and progress on these imperatives through the lens of daily political scorekeeping. He stays focused on whether his day-to-day work, most of which will never appear in the news, is leading toward the desired result (381-382).”
I’m still on board. One year ago I had a house full of people who had come to town for the Inauguration. We attended the Concert for America, made donations to a local agency on MLK Day, and scurried with the masses down to the Mall that freezing cold Tuesday morning. There are days when I still feel that sense of exhilaration. Not because I’m living in denial, but because I’m pleased with my choice: I trust his judgment, I have confidence in his abilities, and I’m comfortable with the long view. Plouffe writes, “He is a chess player in a town full of checkers players. His eyes will remain focused only on the goal, and he will measure progress and make adjustments based on that, not on the current amount of hyperventilation going on in the political press (382).”
What gives me this measure of calm and assurance is that, for the first time in a long time, the smartest person in the room is the one who is actually in charge. Thanks to David Plouffe for helping him get there.