In the latest episode of Political Wire's podcast, we chatted with Jon Favreau, former speechwriter for President Obama, about the Democrats' messaging strategy on ObamaCare, about what other politicians can learn from Obama's personality, and about the nexus between policy and communications in the White House.
Here are five takeaways:
1. Democrats should run on, not away from, ObamaCare: After a rocky rollout for the health insurance exchanges, a key part of the health-care reform law, Democrats have reasons to cheer up a bit ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. Millions of Americans have now picked or enrolled in health insurance through the exchanges or the law's Medicaid expansion, while three million young adults can stay on their parents' plans until age 26. Given that ObamaCare has started to turn the corner, Democrats shouldn't run from it, but on it, Favreau said: "Own it, and own it by talking about the millions of Americans who have the security of health care for the first time in their lives." Democrats should tell these kinds of stories especially when their Republican opponents attack ObamaCare, Favreau said.
2. For Obama, losing to Hillary Clinton in 2008 wouldn't have been the end of the world: Early in the 2008 Democratic nomination process, Obama's presidential hopes against Hillary Clinton were low. Obama trailed Clinton by 20 or more points in the polls. But the idea of losing the race didn't bum out Obama. During the campaign, Favreau said, Obama once remarked that "if I lose this, I’ll go back to Chicago with my wife and kids and raise a family and have a very happy life. I don’t need this as some kind of self-validation."
3. To win over voters, politicians should aim for authenticity: It seems like a no-brainer, but it's easier said than done. "A lot of people are afraid of committing a gaffe or being perfect," Favreau said. Still, one reason behind Obama's political ascendancy is that voters saw him as being authentic and honest, Favreau said. Other politicians would benefit from striving for authenticity instead of continually changing their message to match voters' moods. Voters have a "finely honed BS detector," he said. "I think you should err on the side of authenticity, and err on the side of being who you are and saying what you believe."
4. Polling and consultants are useful, but only to an extent: Although authenticity may be a virtue, that doesn't mean that politicians shouldn't be aware of and use polling or political consulting to their advantage: "Politicians do that, that’s the whole nature of the business." But that prerogative has limitations. For example, polling can help politicians refine their communication style, but they shouldn't let it influence the substance. Moreover, polls are just one snapshot in time; one or two bad ones shouldn't make a politician freak out: "I think there’s a real danger of overreacting to the polls or focusing too much on them." Public opinion can be quite fluid at times. Obama, who has seen his own share of ups and downs, avoids worrying much about the polling of the day for that very reason, Favreau said.
5. Clinton is progressive enough for the Democrats' progressive wing: Favreau doesn't agree with political observers who think that progressives won't be happy with a Clinton candidacy in 2016. Clinton has a record of progressive accomplishments to her name, he argues: "This is someone who started her life with the Children’s Defense Fund." Should Clinton run in 2016, she will be a "formidable candidate" who "will represent the best ideals of the Democratic Party."
Listen to the whole conversation here: