Pod Save America host Dan Pfeiffer's new book, Yes We (Still) Can, unpacks his time in the White House with stories about about President Barack Obama and his impact on the country. The former communications director tells us the secret to discussing politics, his fondest memory of working with the president, and why he's done with predicting the outcome of elections.
Tell us about your latest book, Yes We (Still) Can, and why did you decided to write it now. DAN PFEIFFER: On the day after the 2016 election, I woke up like a lot of the world—disturbed and shocked by the result. How was it possible that America could elect someone like Trump on the heels of eight years of Obama? As I thought about the election, I realized that Barack Obama dealt with the forces that created an environment where someone like Trump could be elected—changes in media, the advent of social media, the rise of conspiracy theories etc. That is the story I wanted to tell in hopes of extracting lessons for the political battles to come and to remind people that we can get out of the mess that we are currently in.
In the book, there's a passage that has been catching a lot of eyes where you quote President Barack Obama as having said, “Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early.” What do you think he meant by that? And what would the country have looked like had he chosen to run later? DP:I actually think the country would be in a lot of trouble, because I believe that the country needed someone with Obama’s thoughtfulness, strategic thinking, and discipline as a cleanser to the Bush era. He was the exact President we needed to help us climb out of the messes at home and abroad that he inherited.
What do you think are the cornerstones to the "Age of Obama"? DP:The animating idea of Obamaism is that change comes from the bottom up. It’s sort of hard to remember know, but back in 2008 the idea that Barack Obama could win the White House was considered to be fanciful at best. It only happened because millions of Americans—many of them engaging in politics for the first time—decided to get involved and build a grassroots movement for change. That is not just Obama’s legacy, it is exactly how we can defeat Trump and put this country back on a path of inclusivity, unity, and progressive ideals.
What's your fondest memory of working for the former president? DP: I think I would answer this question the same way everyone—including President Obama—who worked in the White House in 2010 would answer it. The night we passed the Affordable Care Act—it was such an amazing feeling to know we had done something that would improve (and maybe even save) the lives of millions of Americans. Plus, the First Lady was out of town, so the President threw a great party in the White House that night.
What did Hillary's loss mean to you, to the country? I think some people, including Clinton, are still analyzing it. DP: I am one of those people who is still trying to figure out what happened, it’s partially why I wrote the book. It’s a political and moral tragedy for the country that we failed to elect a woman who would have been a highly-qualified and excellent President and instead handed the nuclear codes to the racist uncle that you spend every Thanksgiving trying to avoid.
I've been a fan of Pod Save America, your podcast, and the team there seems to have such a great rapport with each other. What's the key to discussing politics? The rest of America wants to know. DP: In Obama world we used to say during the darkest political times that you can either cry or laugh and we would often choose laughter because it seemed more fun than the alternative. That’s how we think about Pod Save America in these dark times—you have to laugh to survive. And once you are done laughing, get your butt to work to make sure 2016 never happens again.
Is the lack of accountability a fault of the media or Democrats? DP: I wouldn’t say Democrats (myself included) or the media covered themselves in glory in 2016, but that election is behind us. Accountability in politics is delivered at the ballot box, so we will know in a few weeks whether Trump and the Republicans will be held accountable for the corruption, indecency, incompetence, and racism that has defined the party in the Trump era.
Who or what is the answer for Democrats in 2020? Is Omarosa our failsafe? DP: After getting 2016 so wrong, I have permanently exited the prediction game, but I know enough to know that Omarosa is not the answer to anything other than a Jeopardy question about the stupidity of politics in 2018.