Tuesday, January 12, 2010

four

The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory

David Plouffe's The Audacity To Win is a well-written book, and I believe Plouffe actually wrote most of it, so kudos to him. Also, kudos to him for running a campaign that approached the realm of flawlessness.

He keeps the book interesting throughout, but at times there was a focus on the mechanics of campaigns that got a little boring. Those parts were few and far between, however - usually my internal monologue was more along the lines of "Well, what about this? You forgot about that!" He didn't talk about some of the sillier parts of the primary (I'd love to hear Plouffe's take on Obama Girl and celebrity endorsements for instance), and he barely talked about Palin after her nomination. I suppose that could reflect where his head was throughout the campaign, but it was still a little jarring when interesting parts of the race got brief mentions. Still, I learned a lot about his general electoral strategy.

The main reason it doesn't get five stars is the fact that he engages in a little bit of whitewashing of the rough-and-tumble of the 2008 campaign. He deals with campaign research a few times, and always professes that the Obama campaign dealt with opposition research much less than other campaigns. I have reason to suspect this isn't the full story. He also talks about "research" that was done on the electorate, accompanying a section extolling the utility of focus groups. What he means by research in this context is actually polling - something all campaigns do. This is fine - call it polling or focus groups. His impetus to call it research seems to come from the way the campaign talked about itself as practicing a Politics of Hope - I would have liked a clearer picture of the rubber meeting the road. The Obama campaign had six pollsters (Hillary's campaign had one - which was a huge mistake - and infrequently had another). A fuller story would talk about how they were used to run such an amazing campaign.

I suppose this blunt honesty is too much to ask - but he was bluntly honest at times about the kind of language used inside a campaign (it's not PG like the press releases). In some sections he writes verbal exchanges that absolutely sound like press releases though - they stand out like sore thumbs in the context of a good old-fashioned Rahm Emanuel "fuck you." (That, he says, is how Rahm says "see ya.")

I also appreciated the honesty he conveys of how raw everyone's emotions got during the primary. It got pretty heated, and he writes that the pacifying speech he was going to give to staff the night of the South Dakota and Montana primaries turned into more of a barnburner after he saw Hillary's speech that was more celebratory than conciliatory.

All in all, a great book that gives valuable insight into how the greatest campaign I've ever witnessed achieved the impossible, without re-hashing the conventional wisdom of political journalists.

I did need to put it down from time to time due to flashbacks, however!

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