Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Audacity to Win

In the week following Election Day, I have had some time to devote to reading David Plouffe's The Audacity to Win about the 2008 Presidential campaign and how it was managed. From the perspective of someone involved in the campaign side of politics, it was a unique look at the strategy and tactics of managing such a monumental effort as running for President (most books about campaigns of any kind seem to be more sensationalism and sleaze), but many of the lessons in this book are practical and are applicable to a campaign at any level.

The most important lessons is the necessity of discipline; having a plan and sticking with it, regardless of the amount of criticism you receive from people on the outside. This is a lesson often stressed in campaign schools, and the examples given by Mr. Plouffe certainly reinforce that lesson. One example is in Chapter 3 "Building Blocks" where the campaign took a lot of heat for their strategy in South Carolina:
Most politicos in South Carolina thought we were nuts. But we stuck to our guns and refused to engage in many of the bidding wars for support of political figures. This became a source of tension for some of our more traditional supporters, who wondered why we were so focused on volunteers instead of the warlords who had been getting taken care of for decades and had proved they could turn out the vote with some degrees of success.
This theme of sticking to the game plan is replayed over and over throughout the book as outsiders and some people inside the campaign questioned the decision making.

Anyone interested in getting into campaign work should read this book. It's not just the practical lessons of campaigning, but the reality of campaign life as well, such as leaving behind your family and basically putting your life on hold. As someone who has experienced living in a different town every six months, working for little pay, and missing my wife, I can testify to the enormous personal strain a campaign can place on a person. As David Plouffe says in his opening chapter, "I knew exactly what managing was - pain in the ass" (p. 15). There can be no illusions about the amount of dedication it takes to work on, and especially manage, a campaign; however, if you find someone you believe in, it makes things much easier to abide.

Overall, a highly readable and enjoyable book about the 2008 campaign from the perspective of one of the people involved. It's neither an academic treatise nor a repetition of campaign gossip. In terms of books about campaigns, it's not Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, but it's pretty darn close.

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