David Axelrod and “Yes We Can”

by Rosemary Eng

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF.—When the nod of approval came from wife Michelle, Barack Obama grabbed hold of the “Yes We Can” banner and strode with it to win the presidency.

David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Obama, helped craft the now-famous slogan. He liked it but couldn’t convince his boss that the slogan was not too corny until Michelle said that it wasn’t.

David Alexrod with President Barack Obama

David Alexrod with President Barack Obama

And the slogan started on its way to become a part of history.

Axelrod, who has been touring the country to talk about his new book, “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics,” spoke February 18th at the Museum of Computer History in the heart of the Silicon Valley in Mountain View, Calif.

The book is about his career, much of it with President Obama whom he has been associated with since Obama’s Illinois state senate days.

Obama, an unlikely presidential candidate in a field of more-recognized Democratic names, rode to victory on technology. “Without the Internet, there’s no President Obama,” Axelrod told the tech crowd.

He credits Howard Dean for developing the savvy to use the Internet for electioneering.

The Obama team was small, only eight people including both Barack and Michelle Obama. They were trying to raise $2 million in campaign financing and to their amazement raised $12 million. “It flowed to us over the Internet,” said Axelrod. “It was a fact everyone kind of missed… the proportion of that.”

Incorporating a tech team, unheard of in prior presidential campaigning, Obama had 54 data analysts, “mushrooms who lived in a dark room in campaign headquarters,” and a slew of software designers.

“We were relying on 20 year olds to explain (election) data, voting history, donation data, volunteerism, what people were watching on Nielsen.”

It’s all about positioning yourself ahead of the curve, he said.

The President is known for his attachment to his technical devices. He was keen on using an iPhone when government work was done on Blackberries. Now, the President  “makes voracious use of his iPad,”reading blogs, watching voting results, Axelrod said.

The soft-spoken Axelrod, after a career of being embroiled in politics both as a reporter and as an advisor at all levels of politics, continues to be a believer, as the name of his book makes clear.

“Democracy is a participatory exercise. We all have a responsibility.”

From the beginning of his talk, Axelrod repeatedly mentioned his concerns about being separated from his family during his career because of his daughter’s epilepsy, which manifested when she was an infant. His wife held the lion’s share of responsibility for caring for their daughter when he was away.

The night the Presidential team learned the Affordable Care Act passed, Axelrod went to his office and  started to cry, not just tears, but “heaving sobs.”

“I was so emotional because we almost went bankrupt” from his daughter’s epilepsy. “I was making $38,000 to $40,000 a year as a newspaper reporter” when the medical costs started to mount. “There’s a meaning to all of this, and that is what we can do together to solve big problems. ”

Axelrod, a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune, is now director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, his alma mater. The institute is designed to inspire young people to become active in public service and politics.




One Comment

  1. Another gem by Rosemary Eng, not a huge actuarial tome weighted by numbers, data, just a sliver of truth like a shard of diamond able to slice through millions of words that have been written about the AHC Act boiled down to the concentrated essence of what affordable health care means to one family.
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *