Review: Yes we (still) can, by Dan Pfeiffer

I have avoided reading too much by former Obama staffers because, as I watch the racist, misogynist monster in the White House play havoc with the most basic of human rights, I just get too sad. I definitely appreciated what we had while we had it, making its loss acute. Similarly, watching The West Wing  feels a bit masochistic sometimes.

There is very little point in languishing, though. Obama’s people survived 8 years of a Republican onslaught, from actual bare-faced lies and fake news to serious national and international crises. It stands to reason that they have a lot to teach us.

Dan Pfeiffer was Obama’s Communications Director and Senior Adviser for the first 6 years of his term. He had been there right from the start of the Obama campaign in 2007. Now one of the co-hosts of the excellent Pod Save America, he’s written a book about politics in the age of Obama, Twitter and Trump.

A lot of what he says is common sense – the importance of having a message that gets people’s hearts beating faster being the most obvious. He describes the changes in the way the media works which took place over the Obama years and what this meant for the way we fight elections. He outlines how we need to be better at fighting elections on those platforms.

He also talks about making sure that our facts are absolutely unimpeachable so as not to allow the other side the opportunity to scream “fake news.” So it’s an end to spin.

Pfeiffer’s footnotes are the unsung hero of this book. Many are hilarious – although one of them I will never forgive him for because it has created a mental image that I will never be able to unsee.

One of the core successes of the Obama team is their close-knit loyalty to each other. There was no culture of blame, no revolving door and no leaks. They tried to sort stuff out as a team. They certainly didn’t get everything right. Nobody ever can when it comes to Government, but they went about it the right way.

There is a lot in this book that we Liberal Democrats could learn from. The most important to me is not to be safe. We need to be loud and proud about what we believe in. Too often we’ve wanted to be seen as credible and sensible and with all our numbers adding up. We can paint our vision in primary colours without throwing away the fact that it’s rooted in common sense.

Another important lesson is to change the game and not to allow ourselves to be dragged on to the opponent’s territory. Obama did that by getting people to vote for him who never usually voted. Hillary didn’t keep hold of those people.

For anyone seeking to transform the toxic, polarised British politics – and stop Brexit – this book is a good start.

Yes we (still) can is available from many retailers, including Waterstones.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • William Fowler 30th Jun '18 - 2:13pm

    Obama is a nice, civilized chap but he spent eight years playing it safe and avoiding doing anything that would besmirch the concept of a black president, which is fair enough but no reason to rewrite history. His inaction opened the door for Trump to come along and galvanize a different sector of the electorate. Unlike Brexit, a few years down the line the bad side of Trump will be sorted out by the next president (or eventually if he gets re-elected) and there will interesting lessons to be learnt from his actions.

  • Steve Trevethan 30th Jun '18 - 2:22pm

    Mr Obama’s contributions to the harms and cruelties of migrations resulting from US led foreign interventions is not something we should even consider emulating.
    Prior to the US/Eu intervention Libya was a “receiver country accepting and employing millions of Africans providing them with citizenship and a decent livelihood.” Now it has slave markets and chaos.
    Consequently Europe spends billions to attempt to deal with such massive people movements and right wing parties and worse are using this avoidable migration to further their messages and/or actions of hate.

  • Steve Trevethan 30th Jun ’18 – 2:22pm…

    Exactly…LDV seem to view the ‘Obama years’ through rose coloured spectacles. Prior to the Obama led Libyan regime change (sadly, supported by our party) Libya was not a haven for slavers and people smugglers…

  • Innocent Bystander 30th Jun '18 - 2:55pm

    Obama would have been great and amusing company at a nice dinner party. He never showed any sign of leadership.

  • Innocent Bystander 30th Jun '18 - 5:15pm

    I am no great expert on US politics but if Trump is to. be defeated next time it will need more than an engaging candidate, they will need a compelling vision. “Yes we can” and “change” have been sold once. They won”t sell again. Clear tangible and effective policies are needed. “,We are going to be nicer than Trump and we hope that will be enough” won’t do.

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