Monday, August 9, 2010

Plouffe's 'Audacity' a wish-fulfillment fantasy

Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Nov. 12, 2009

Plouffe's 'Audacity' a wish-fulfillment fantasy

By Jeff Charis-Carlson

Iowa Cityscapes

No one expected David Plouffe to write a warts-and-all account of the presidential campaign that he so successfully managed in 2007 and 2008. Yet "The Audacity to Win" -- Plouffe's nearly 400-page memoir -- is more wish-fulfillment fantasy than a day-by-day account of the two-year campaign.

If "Dreams from My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope" represent the gospel according to Barack Obama, then Plouffe's "The Audacity to Win" is the equivalent of the New Testament's "Acts of the Apostles." The book tells the near-miraculous story of the "come-from-behind" win of one of the biggest upsets in American political history. And in doing so, Plouffe explains how the early disciples of this political messiah divined the one scenario out of a million by which their Obama would defeat first Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and then John McCain to claim the White House:

• Woo Iowans like they have never been wooed before.

• Use the Internet to raise more money than had ever been raised before.

• And use the lessons learned in Iowa to build effective organizations in states all but ignored by Obama's rivals.

Indeed, the "Barack Obama" presented in "The Audacity to Win" is everything that Plouffe and his former partner, David Axelrod, had worked so hard to brand candidate Obama as:

• Unflappable: While the Clintons were known for their melodrama, Plouffe's Obama always keeps his cool, deals with setbacks in stride and never reacts personally to bad news.

• The embodiment of change: Plouffe's Obama initially dismisses "Change We Can Believe In" as a vacuous statement. But the candidate also intuitively trusts Plouffe and Axelrod. So, he agrees to use the slogan that, as luck would have it, just happens to become the defining theme of the campaign.

• The high-road candidate: Plouffe's Obama is always the first to criticize when the campaign goes off tone -- especially when attacking Clinton or Sarah Palin. And Plouffe explains away even Obama's weak spots as further evidence of the candidate's high-mindedness. If his Obama performs badly in a debate, well, it's only because the candidate realizes the ridiculousness of trying to reduce complex issues down to 30-, 60- and 90-second answers.

• Audacious: Plouffe's Obama does have an ego, but he also is the smartest person in the room. In fact, Plouffe's Obama is so smart that he knows when to listen to Plouffe and Axelrod and when to ignore their advice and do something "authentic."

Because Plouffe is one of the original creators of the Obama brand, it's impossible to say where his Obama differs from the "flesh and blood" Obama who was on the campaign trail. And because Plouffe didn't go directly into the new administration -- like Axelrod did -- it's even harder to know how far Plouffe's Obama differs from the Obama now nearing the end of his first year as president.

But if you'd like to hear in person what Plouffe thinks about "President Obama," you can see the former campaign manager at 7 p.m. today at The Englert Theatre. Two tickets for the event are free with every purchase of the book at Prairie Lights.

Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at 319-887-5435 or

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