Editor’s Note: David Axelrod, senior political commentator for CNN and host of “The Ax Files,” was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and the chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.opinion more opinions on CNN.
When people mention politics in various companies these days, the word is often meant to evoke discomfort, averted and nervous supporting characters, and steer the conversation to a safer shore. They reported avoiding the topic entirely at holiday gatherings for fear of inviting ill-feeling among different relatives and ruining the occasion.
Today, anger and resentment are the means by which many politicians raise money and garner support, and social media platforms are increasingly used by us as a means of keeping potential consumers online for advertisers. It has become a staple of public discourse.
Our national credo, “e pluribus unum” (Latin phrase meaning “one out of many”), is that divide-and-conquer politics and media algorithms will transform nations into nations, neighbors to neighbors, and I lowered my expectations of what we could achieve together.
But just the other day there was another time, another season, and an even more hopeful night that reminded us that America can do better.
15 years ago on Tuesday, Barack Obama stunned the world with his victory at the Iowa Democratic caucus.
Obama launched the campaign as a decisive long shot, preaching a message of unity, reconciliation and reform to a nation deeply divided over the war in Iraq and stranded by bipartisanship in Washington.
That Iowa, one of the most white states in the country, hugged a young black man just three years away from the Illinois Senate on that cold winter night showed the seriousness and seriousness of his candidacy. It was a signal of possibility. It also brilliantly subverted conventional wisdom about the limits of what is possible in America.
It was an unforgettable night for those of us who campaigned for Obama — a moving affirmation, not only a unique and capable candidate. It was a test of the idea that ordinary citizens have the power to unite and change the course of history, sharing more than they do.
The caucuses were the culmination of a year of serious dialogue between Mr. Obama and Iowans in their homes, schools, businesses and other gathering places. These conversations were amplified by our young staff and thousands of volunteers. Many left their homes and jobs to settle in Iowa and help bring change and progress to the country. (So strong were the ties between these organizers and the local population that one young Obama and his staff were shunned by residents of the small town of Algona, Iowa, where he was hosting, even after the caucuses. I was asked to run for city council.)
Iowans also played a key role in attending candidate meetings and testing candidates. Realizing the importance of Iowa as the host of the nation’s first nominating contest, many Iowans engaged in numerous conversations with candidates before committing to endorse them at caucuses. Become. Grib lines and drive-bys were no starters. If a future president wants a commitment at the caucuses, they better prepare for a serious conversation.
And these conversations weren’t just performances. Spending his 87 days leading up to the caucuses in Iowa made Obama, who was new to national politics, a much better candidate. And that would make him a better president. He listened profusely to people’s stories and ideas and their reactions to his own opinions, which helped him hone his thinking and presentation.
Iowa also qualified its candidates. Once, while we were traveling, Obama was asked to call a high school leader in Iowa. In Iowa, he allowed young people turning 18 to attend caucuses by Election Day.
Our field political team suggested this student could be the key to unlocking a dozen caucus commitments from classmates. I gave you a greeting. However, the girl cut him off immediately. “I’m on my way to class,” she explained. “Can you call me back later?”
Mr. Obama returned the call and smiled as he reflected on their brief exchange. “Hey, running for president can be humbling!”
Preparations for the caucuses took place during the frigid holiday season of 2007. Obama hit the snowy state with his voice almost on fire. caucus day.
The campaign headquarters in downtown Des Moines was littered with coffee cups and pizza boxes, filled with people, energy and a vibrant sense of purpose. His wife Susan and her youngest son worked as volunteers at the main hotline in the adjacent unheated annexe.
Susan received a particularly moving call from a woman who desperately wanted to “stand up for Obama” at a local caucus where neighbors organized themselves into sections of the room according to the candidate’s preferences. “But I’m in a wheelchair and can’t stand,” the woman said worriedly. “Will they still count me?”
When the caucuses began, I persuaded Susan and her son to attend the hall where Obama was speaking. From the reports we received, we were confident we would win and wanted to share the moment with her family: “I want to stay in case the call is delayed,” she said.
When Susan finally made it to the hall, the outcome was clear. I found her and cut through her crowd with a knife, we hugged and cried. It’s her one of the most sublime moments I’ve ever had in my political life. Obama took the stage and his speech perfectly captured the meaning of the journey.
“You know, they said this day would never come,” he began. “They said our goals were too high. They said the country was too divided and too disillusioned to unite for a common cause.
“But this January night, at this defining moment in history, you did what the cynics said we couldn’t do… around schools and churches, small towns and big cities. You gathered as Democrats, Republicans, and independents in a line that stretched out to stand up and say we are one country, we are one, and it’s time for change. ”
Fifteen years later, it all feels like a distant memory. Victims of inner desires and on their way out. The extraordinary role the caucuses played in the election of America’s first black president.
More importantly, Iowa’s potential for national reconciliation has paled to many in light of the extreme polarization and acerbic, reactionary politics we’ve seen since then. It suggests that it may seem like a dream.
But democracy is a constant struggle between hope and cynicism.
I look back on a wonderful, soaring night fifteen years ago not only as a pleasant memory, but as a reminder of what America could be.