Sunday 24 September 2017

Why Obama feared that 'Yes we can' slogan was corny

The 'Yes we can' slogan nearly never made it into Barack Obama's 2008 election presidential campaign as he was worried it was 'too corny'. Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The 'Yes we can' slogan nearly never made it into Barack Obama's 2008 election presidential campaign as he was worried it was 'too corny'. Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

It was the slogan that propelled the first black man into the White House on a wave of hope; a phrase that captured the imagination of the US, and embodied the ambitious reforms promised by Barack Obama.

And yet "Yes we can" nearly never made it into Mr Obama's 2008 election campaign as he was worried it was "too corny".

It was not until his wife Michelle intervened that the then Illinois senator was convinced, according to a new book written by David Axelrod, Mr Obama's chief adviser at the time.

Mr Axelrod said Mrs Obama watched her husband shooting his first ad for the campaign, closing with the line. "He read through the script once," he said. "And after the first take he said, 'Gee, is that too corny?'" He turned to Michelle and said, 'What do you think?' She just slowly shook her head from side to side and said, 'Not corny'."

It turned out to be one of the most memorable elements of Mr Obama's run to the White House.

The slogan is credited with capturing the imagination of voters tired of Washington's cynical brand of politics. It helped to position Mr Obama as a grass-roots insurgent taking on an apparently impossible task. And it caught the spirit of the nation.

Mr Axelrod worked as a senior adviser at the White House and helped Mr Obama get re-elected in 2012, but has since become an adviser to Ed Miliband as the Labour leader prepares for this year's general election.

Mr Axelrod's memoir, Believer, was published in the US last week.

In an interview with The New York Times, he also said that Mr Obama was never going to be able to live up to the unrealistic expectations of many voters in 2008. "First of all, there was this expectation that if Obama got elected, the whole world would change overnight and that political combatants would drop their arms and hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' and we'd all march forward together as one big happy family," he said.

"That was never in the cards."

But he admitted disappointment that the administration had been unable to overhaul Washington's partisan politics, saying: "We didn't achieve what we set out to achieve. We clearly haven't changed the tone in Washington."

Mr Axelrod also described a "bizarre" moment when Donald Trump, the Republican billionaire businessman and outspoken critic of Mr Obama, offered to lead the clean-up of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "You owe it to the president to be polite and to give folks a hearing," he said. "But even as I was going through these conversations, I had this sense of surreality." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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