Book review: Yes We (Still) Can by Dan Pfeiffer

yes we still can dan pfeifferI must admit that if I’d paid for this book I’d be inclined to ask for my money back. The title suggests it’s a blueprint for the future, while it’s actually a mixture of memoir, venting and punditry on the past.

Former White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer takes us through a series of vignettes from his journey into politics, his days on the Obama campaign, some of the key issues he faced in the Obama White House, his decision to leave, what he did on his gap break (Southeast Asia, man!), his marriage, his CNN gig, Hillary’s defeat, and, finally, you get a few bullet points on what we might have learnt from all this on how to defeat Trump.

I’m a little unsure who the audience is for this. If you’re into US politics most of it will be stuff you already know – the standoffs with Republicans over Obamacare and the shutdown, the day-to-day dilemmas over how best to present Obama to a wider audience, the tan suit (remember when that was considered a presidential scandal?).

However if you’re unfamiliar with all this and coming to the book wanting to learn more, you might flounder. There is no clear explanation of the issues behind the anecdotes. The names of key people are thrown in with no explanation of who they are. Stories are set up and not paid off.

Maybe you will share Pfeiffer’s disappointment that he didn’t get the Director of Communications job in Obama’s first administration and learnt of someone else’s appointment via an email. But in the next chapter he is Director of Communications, with no clue as to how that transition took place.

Pfeiffer may have some unique insights into life inside the West Wing but if he has he isn’t sharing them. Instead he tells stories that are ostensibly self-deprecating, like when he was waiting for anaesthetic to take effect ahead of surgery and accidentally sent a tweet where he had meant to use the word ‘bigger’ but had, in his haze, replaced the ‘b’ with an ‘n’. It’s actually more of a humblebrag – I was hospitalised three times and I still wouldn’t take time off work!

I’m a big fan of the Pod Save America podcast, hosted by Pfeiffer and three fellow former Obama aides. They regularly delve into questions of the future direction of the Democrats and the strategies that they need to defeat the Republicans, as well as highlighting the work of grassroots activists and more radical approaches. I was expecting that depth and specificity from this book but I was disappointed.

I received a copy of Yes We (Still) Can from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Yes We (Still) Can on Goodreads

For a book that really does dish the dirt on a very different White House, take a look at my review of Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff (can’t believe it was only January when it came out!)

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