I’ve been in the quote scribbling business now for more than a decade, and I am consistently humbled by just how hard it is to get right. I can be sure I heard something correctly, even just a sentence, and the tyranny of just a few seconds between hearing and scribbling will mangle the result. Compare my delayed notes to the audio tape, and I will find that I have misplaced a “the” for an “an,” mangled verb construction or misplaced an adjective.
These hard lessons make Obama For America Campaign Manager David Plouffe’s new book–excerpted this week in TIME–all the more amazing. This guy doesn’t just claim to remember short quotes verbatim; he remembers whole paragraphs spoken in late night phone calls in the heat of a sleepless campaign. Here is how Plouffe recalls one after-hours phone call between himself, Obama and senior adviser David Axelrod.
We conferenced Barack in. “So?” he asked. “What’s the deal?” We told him we agreed with the speech but that it was going to be hard to put it together.
“Tonight is Friday — well, Saturday morning,” I said. “We have to give this speech no later than Tuesday. You have a full schedule in Pennsylvania the next three days. It has already been publicized. If we start canceling events, it will fuel the impression that we’re panicked and our candidacy is on the rocks.”
“No, we can’t cancel anything,” Obama interjected. “But I already know what I want to say in this speech. I’ve been thinking about it for almost 30 years. I’ll call [lead campaign speechwriter Jon Favreau] in the morning and give him some initial guidance. And I’ll work on this during downtime in the hotel room each night. Don’t worry. Even if I have to pull all-nighters, I can make this work.”
Either Plouffe was taping the call, keeping meticulous notes, or he has a seriously cracker-jack memory–or he just filled in some of the holes months later with what he thinks was said. No doubt Obama and Axelrod had a chance to read the draft of the book before it went to press, so I doubt that there is anything that will be challenged. Just saying though. That’s a lot of direct quotes.
The direct quotes continue, quite revealingly, when Plouffe recounts his interview with Sen. Joe Biden during the vice presidential selection process.
The [first] meeting started with Biden launching into a nearly 20-minute monologue that ranged from the strength of our campaign in Iowa (“I literally wouldn’t have run if I knew the steamroller you guys would put together”); to his evolving views of Obama (“I wasn’t sure about him in the beginning of the campaign, but I am now”); why he didn’t want to be VP (“The last thing I should do is VP; after 36 years of being the top dog, it will be hard to be No. 2”); why he was a good choice (“But I would be a good soldier and could provide real value, domestically and internationally”); and everything else under the sun. Ax and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. It confirmed what we suspected: this dog could not be taught new tricks.