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- iHaveNet.com: Politics
by Jules Witcover
Sarah Palin's cathartic tome may be flying off the shelves, but the best political book in years by far is "The Audacity to Win," the inside account of how Barack Obama won the presidency, written by one of the two chief architects of that historic achievement, campaign manager David Plouffe.
Plouffe, the business partner of the other and more prominent mastermind of the Obama election, political strategist David Axelrod, has taken readers into the heart of the Obama campaign -- its organization, its tactics, its personalities and above all its energy -- in a comprehensive way seldom before so revealingly done.
In contrast with the landmark campaign series of the 1960s, "The Making of the President," by the late Theodore H. White, which offered panoramic views of the quadrennial American extravaganza in melodramatic terms with a taste of inside reporting, Plouffe's book puts the reader inside his head and at his side behind all the closed doors.
From the first conversations with fellow Chicagoan Obama about embarking on the long-shot quest of the Democratic nomination to the triumphant election night, the author traces the thoughts, decisions and actions of the tight quartet who primarily delivered the victory -- Obama himself, Plouffe, Axelrod and, somewhat surprisingly, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
The latter emerges as an Obama confidante and decision-shaper more in the mode of old campaign press secretaries Jim Hagerty for Dwight D. Eisenhower and Jody Powell for Jimmy Carter than the string of out-of-the-loop propagandists, apologists and sycophants who customarily have held the job. As such, Gibbs carried an uncommon credibility as the principal public voice of the campaign.
Plouffe's own central part in every aspect of the Obama drive for the presidency enabled him also to assess its successes and failures. He spells out the shrewd strategies as well as the occasional blunders that periodically intruded on the master plan. He offers a candid warts-and-all report on how it all worked out in the end.
In the process, Plouffe repeatedly emphasizes the critical contribution of the unprecedented army of volunteers from the top echelon to the precinct door-knockers, whose numbers the leadership swelled beyond past participation in the presidential campaigns, particularly focused on young and African-American voters. They flocked to the contest in proportions that voided all expert calculations on turnout in key precincts and states.
The author pays tribute to the charisma and oratorical talents of his candidate as the spark for all the success, including the record-setting fund-raising that enabled the Obama leadership to overwhelm its primary and general-election foes. And he acknowledges that McCain's unavoidable reliance on the limited federal campaign subsidy in the fall imposed an insurmountable handicap on him in waging the air war on television.
Above all, Plouffe demonstrates the superior appreciation in the Obama camp for all the changes in presidential campaigning wrought by the huge technological advances in presenting, promoting and selling of the candidate and his policy agenda. He underscores the imperative in today's politics of taking the long view in conceiving and adhering to the route laid out. At one point he says Obama played the game as if it were chess, always thinking ahead, while McCain and his team were playing checkers, one move at a time.
The point is well made in McCain's abrupt and ultimately damaging decision to cancel a scheduled debate and rush back to Washington to join the Bush administration's deliberations on the emerging economic crisis. It made McCain look erratic, and then foolish as he sat mostly silent as Obama took the lead for the attending Democrats.
There is in this book a certain amount of self-congratulation on how the Obama team outwitted the opposition. But Plouffe does not stint on sharing the credit nor shirk in taking the blame for bumps in the road.
The strength of Teddy White's "Making" series was how he introduced the process to millions of Americans as a lofty exercise in self-government. And he would cite an almost mystic ability of the American people to make the right choice in the end. History did not always sustain that view. David Plouffe's account has some romanticism in it as well, but it is dominated by a greater realism of what it is like in the hard-nosed politics-as-warfare that the making of a president has become.
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