‘I want to be quiet a little bit and not hear myself talk so darn much,” Barack Obama said of his postpresidency plans during his final White House press conference, and for the most part he has lived up to that aspiration. But he hasn’t needed to say much. Every couple of months, it seems, one of his former staffers—a scheduler, a speechwriter, a “deputy director of messaging”—comes out with a book recalling the Obama years and defending the Obama legacy. Now we have “Yes We (Still) Can” (Twelve, 284 pages, $28) by former White House communications director and senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer. The book, Mr. Pfeiffer writes, is a “look back at my experiences on the Obama campaigns and in the White House to try to better understand the current state of politics and look at where we go from here.” In other words, he wants to tell Democrats how to win in 2020.
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If I were a Democrat, I wouldn’t listen. For one thing, electoral politics is protean: What worked in 2008 and 2012 is almost guaranteed not to work in 2020. For another, Mr. Obama and his team surely bear some of the blame for the Democrats’ 2016 defeat. If he was truly the great leader his panegyrists claim, why couldn’t Mr. Obama’s chosen successor get herself elected against a seemingly unelectable agitator who spurned and ridiculed Mr. Obama at every opportunity? Mr. Pfeiffer has no interest in self-criticism. Instead he blames Fox News, the reporters who failed to treat the Obama administration with sufficient reverence, the media’s unfair treatment of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump’s evil use of Twitter, and just about anything that doesn’t implicate the 44th president.
“The path back for Democrats is pretty clear and it doesn’t mean becoming more like Trump, ” he writes. “Hate worked for him; it won’t work for us. It requires being audacious, authentic, and inspirational. It’s not an entirely new playbook. It’s an update of the one that Barack Obama wrote.” This and similar passages suggest to me that Mr. Pfeiffer didn’t write the book to show Democrats “the path back” but to insist that Mr. Obama was really the savior so many believed him to be.