Tuesday, August 22, 2006

[An intercepted interoffice memo from executive office of David Axelrod & Associates to the company’s public relations division]

Memo from the Barack Obama for President Campaign.
To: The Publicity…Op Ed…Photography and Creative Concepts Divisions. Cc. Advertising.

From: Executive Office—D. A.

Re: Congratulations and Some Suggestions.

Dear All: Congratulations on a really first-class job from concept…the idea of Barack returning to Africa to visit the land from which his natural father left the family to go to Harvard…through the visit to the South African prison that housed Nelson Mandela…to the follow-up events that I know will be carried-on in your true professional style. There is absolutely none better than you guys at doing this. The genius of it is that if anyone criticizes they will be held in contempt by white liberals who will insist that they are (a) racist and (b) abnormally insensitive to the humanity that absolutely streams off of our guy which fosters white guilt. Just a few things that could be improved which are offered in the spirit of constructive criticism which I know you will understand as none of us are above improvement which the sign in our reception room affirms.

First, the photo of Barack looking through the prison bars at the jail where Nelson Mandela was held was truly inspiring. Nothing captures the thoughtfulness and deep thoughts of our guy than shots of this type. Whoever put the newspaper photog on to the stunt deserves our praise. There’s nothing that helps our cause more than white guilt. Don’t tell me that whites here had nothing to do with Mandela’s being locked up for 28 years. So what? Who cares? Liberal guilt is guilt: a blessing to our guy. When I opened the Sun-Times this morning and saw that picture on the front page…well—it just blew me away. And then to read Lynn Sweet’s prose, both in the paper and on her blog—all I could say was “whhoooooeeee!” You will want to get that photo at once and put it in the file which we’ll use for the brochure. Is there any silent film footage of it? I should imagine that if a still photographer snapped it there were cameramen around…God knows there’s enough of them on the trip…to have gotten the shot. We want the film for the commercials.

Second, you expected some criticism from this office, didn’t you? The photo of Barack looking through the bars with the thoughtful look on his face, his eyes sad, his face drawn in inexpressible sadness, was great. But…it would have been even better if…if what? Think! It would have been even better if there had been just the faintest trace of a tear on his cheek…or, failing that, a suggestion of his eyes misting over. Now you think I am suggesting artificial tears, aren’t you? That would be tacky. Nothing this agency is associated with is artificial. There is no substitute for real tears or real mist produced by the real process. The way to accomplish this is, if somebody had just thought of it, to give just a whiff of a spray from an atomizer, nothing more than a kind of spray that asthmatics use to clear their lungs (which produce either tears or misty eyes) and women use for perfume. Anything causing the eyes to fog up a bit or mist is good and often welling tears in the eyes may include one trickling down the cheek. Cameras are good these days at catching misty eyes. Nobody did it better than Reagan where it was accompanied by a visible lump in the throat —but he was a professional actor. Not like our guy.

I personally prefer evident tears over misty eyes. Sure, there’s always the chance of over-kill, like if he were to bite his lip. That would be too much. Clinton did that—too much. But the faintest suggestion of tears would have transformed a 99 percent perfect shot into a 100 percent ten-strike. I don’t want to dwell on it but somebody could have done it before the photog came on the scene. I suppose in the rush to get the picture snapped and processed nobody thought of that. But it shows that no matter how good we get, we can always get better. But even without the misty eyes, the concept of white guilt was produced. Excellent.

Third, none of us in this agency can rest on our laurels. I don’t know if any of you have had the time to dwell on what happens after the African trip is over. It so happens I have. I would hold up on the television interviews with CBS until Couric takes over. She’s a real natural for this kind of thing. You can go ahead with Nightline and NBC but I’d like to be able to turn on my set the night Couric takes over the evening newscast and have her announce that Barack will be with her to reconnoiter the African thing. You may argue that it will be a dead issue by the time she comes on the scene. No way. You can always think of a reason to update it. By the way, whoever thought of Barack’s condemnation of Africa not doing enough to cure AIDS was thinking the way I think. It was so safe, so simple. So unanswerable. Of course, nobody’s done enough to cure AIDS! He can use a variant of that with Couric. You see where I’m going on this? Assignment: it doesn’t have to be necessarily Africa. Think of any injustice. The kids who die as result of no seat belts being fastened. No one’s better at this stuff than our guy. Suppose he goes on with Couric and has statistics showing how many children died without seat belts. Immediately her eyes well up and his. That’s the kind of stuff.

I know you have the idea because the speech-writing division scored big-time with his talk to the Katrina graduates telling them to study hard. How profound, how unutterably meaningful! So simple yet unanswerable. Of course! Katrina kid victims should study! Who but the most crass would say that message is political? Just like who would say his trip to Africa was political? If I say so myself the keynote I had something to do with that had him saying there are no African Americans, Irish Americans, Greek Americans but just Americans: it says everything and nothing. The assimilation of non-controversial truisms is what will nominate our guy.

Fourth, in this project we all re-learned how absolutely magnificent our guy is with photo ops which show his thoughtfulness. In the old days we’d pose a guy with his chin resting in his hand and a thoughtful, misty…there’s that magnificent embodiment again… look in his eye communicating the idea of deep thinker. We don’t have to do that with our guy. The New York Times magazine is always looking for something on him that’s new. What about (a) the Op Ed division doing an article for Barack to sign off on about Abraham Lincoln, subtly pointing out how backward he was in the long reach of history because he wanted to send blacks back to Africa: there’s that guilt thing again. Then again, we could use another Katrina. Send him to New Orleans, walking tall and majestic, through some kinds of rubble. That gets the idea that fits without saying so into Nagin’s point that white racism allowed New Orleans to worsen, that if it were Orange county things wouldn’t be so bad. Barack doesn’t have to echo it. Just walk in shirt-sleeves and look sad. Ergo: white liberal guilt.

But back to the Lincoln thing. Of course it’s somewhat unfair using views of the 19th century in contrast to the advanced ones of our own. But Op Ed can go relatively easy on Lincoln…point out at the same time also how advanced he was and presto! Our guy comes off as a moderate. Now stay with me for a minute: the cover of the Times Sunday magazine has…get this…Barack standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial looking thoughtful. I wouldn’t want to overdo the misty eyes thing but maybe he could look determined…as if to say: as a successor to Lincoln I will see that his promise is redeemed. Great stuff. We will want Lynn Sweet around at all times with her dispassionate descriptions that I love. I can see Eric Zorn going poetic, Mary Schmich turning thoughtful. Mary Mitchell turning somersaults. Carol Marin—but that’s too easy. Rather like the old days with Bob Greene.

By now I’m sure you get what I mean. One more. I would personally consider a trip to the slave quarters at Monticello…I think they still exist unless the DNC tried to get them to be removed given Jefferson is regarded as the founder of our party…but if they haven’t, the same kind of shot can never be overdone. There’s the white guilt thing again. How to atone for it? Easy: elect Barack.

The important thing is for you to continue what you’re doing…thinking and executing great, solemn, dramatic scenarios. Let me in summary tell you once more what I’ve learned in this business. We have a guy here who doesn’t have to say much—just sketch out huge themes and step back. The speech advocating that religion be brought into Democratic politics was a natural. He never explains how, just says it ought to happen. The African trip was another ten-strike. Other agencies worry about their guys…or woman, pardon me…building up issues. Not us. This guy transcends issues. Stands for big concepts: religion in politics…sadness thinking of Mandela. That kind of thing. All the while we’re doing these great things, Biden is trying to adapt the Wal-Mart minimum wage into a national story. I crack up when I think of it.

I’ve got to run but be assured that any of your ideas will receive prompt attention here in the front office…and thanks so much for the great work up to now. And when you see Lynn…which I know will be soon…give her my warmest regards along with my best to her good friends over there, the two Johns. You know who I mean.


  1. P.S. from DA,

    Thanks for squashing the story about my son getting into a fracas with Antonio Davis (of the New York Knicks) and his wife Kendra. The way it looks, my son was not intoxicated (one of the few at a Bulls Game) nor tormenting Kendra, and she comes out looking like a mad woman with an agitated husband.

    Good Work!

  2. Forgive my possible naïveté, but these days it is difficult to sort out the real, the surreal and satire. Too often, too close for comfort. Is this the work of the esteemed Mr. Roeser or the rather objectionable Mr. Axelrod? I can't sleep properly until I know.