Yes We (Still) Can | Dan Pfeiffer

Summary of: Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump
By: Dan Pfeiffer


In the book ‘Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump,’ author Dan Pfeiffer chronicles his political journey and the lessons he’s learned along the way. In this summarized version, the book delves into his first introduction to politics during a mock debate, his time at Georgetown University, and various internships and jobs he held in political campaigns. Pfeiffer provides a unique perspective on the 2008 Obama campaign, the use of social media in politics, the ever-changing landscape of the media and the rise of Trumpism. It also offers advice to address fake news and strategies that future Trump challengers can adopt. Engaging and informative, this book summary encapsulates the challenges, intricacies, and excitement of politics in the digital age.

Lessons from Political Campaigns

Dan Pfeiffer’s journey to working with Al Gore’s campaign team teaches valuable lessons in politics.

Dan Pfeiffer’s journey in politics started in seventh grade when he played Michael Dukakis in a mock debate. Although he had studied well, his opponent’s simple yet compelling points made him aware of the importance of messaging in politics. Pfeiffer landed an internship at Vice President Al Gore’s office where he quickly made a name for himself by memorizing files. This led to a job offer from the Justice Department.

Pfeiffer’s eagerness to work for Gore’s presidential campaign led him to Nashville. Although the press secretary who offered him a job was fired, he started at the bottom with other volunteers, making calls. Pfeiffer’s organizing skills soon earned him a job with a local media team.

Pfeiffer’s journey taught him valuable lessons such as the importance of preparation and messaging in politics. Pfeiffer advises young people aspiring to work in politics to be persistent, grab hold of every opportunity, and prove themselves in every job.

The Five Building Blocks to Obama’s Win

Dan Pfeiffer, former Communications Director for Senator Tim Johnson, recounts the five essential building blocks that contributed to Barack Obama’s presidential win in 2008. Pfeiffer attributes attitude, scaling, culture, strategy, and message as the key components that made Obama’s campaign unlike any other. Apart from Obama’s political aspirations, Pfeiffer highlights how the presidential candidate’s approach to meeting people, and his attentiveness to delivering a worth addressing message, made him distinct from any other politician. Pfeiffer also mentions how Obama’s team of staff and volunteers operated under a “no asshole policy,” a policy synonymous with “No Drama Obama,” that ensured teamwork, trust, and loyalty amongst everyone. The campaign strategy was simple yet effective – win Iowa, get at least second place in New Hampshire, survive Nevada, win South Carolina, and enter Super Tuesday with momentum. All these factors helped secure Obama’s presidential win in 2008.

Mastering the Art of Political Messaging

In this book, Dan Pfeiffer delves into the art of crafting effective political messages. He emphasizes the importance of authenticity and a compelling story, which were central to Barack Obama’s successful campaigns. Pfeiffer then goes on to discuss the role of the press in modern politics, stressing the need for establishing a healthy and honest relationship. He warns against entities that masquerade as legitimate news sources while promoting false propaganda, and emphasizes the need to always be truthful to maintain media trust.

The Shift in Media Landscape

The media landscape has drastically shifted over time, resulting in the rise of Trumpism and distrust of mainstream media. Back during Bill Clinton’s term, the goal of the President was to win the news cycle. However, media consumption has significantly changed, and chasing the news cycle no longer makes sense. As a result of ad revenue being hurt, media companies have to tighten their belts, resulting in a reduction of experienced staff. The nonstop news cycle means that media companies have less time for editing and fact-checking, leading to a decline in trust for mainstream media. The rise of Facebook also contributed to the shift, where the platform highlighted controversial and sensational news stories. This media landscape was ripe for Trumpism to emerge.

Trumpism and the Birth of Fake News

A two-step approach to killing the Birther movement was set up by Pfeiffer when fake news disseminated by those who doubted that Obama was born in the US began to fester and spread. Pfeiffer handed out copies of Obama’s real birth certificate to the press and had Obama give his statement later in the day to keep him separate from responding to a racist-minded conspiracy theory. This let Obama control the story, raising issues such as the budget crisis, and responsible media turned against Trump and his desperate attempts to gain publicity.

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