"You Can't Change Washington from the Inside."

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 20 2012 4:16 PM

"You Can't Change Washington from the Inside."

I have literally no clue why this is supposed to be a gaffe.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Nearly four years after on a promise of bringing change to Washington, President Barack Obama said that he had embarked on an impossible mission. "You can't change Washington from the inside," Obama said during a live-streamed town hall in Miami which will be broadcast on the Spanish-language news network Univision tonight. "You can only change it from the outside."
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Zeke Miller does offer a video of the whole quote, in which Obama makes -- oh, guess what, it's another uncontroversial point blown up into a gaffe!

That's how I got elected. That's how the big accomplishments, like health care, got done -- was because we mobilized the American people to speak out.

It's a basic argument about presidential persuasion, one that Obama's made quite a few times, most recently in July. Is it accurate? It probably undersells how much the Obama team tried to turn "Organizing for America" into a force. It glides past the argument some retired and retiring Democrats have made, that Obama has not put in the work on Capitol Hill to pass more bills. (This is integral to Bob Woodward's book, which for some reason has failed to attract much buzz.) But it's a point everyone makes. Last month, in a short interview at the DNC, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe told me his mantra for conservatives: "The real work starts on November 7." After you win elections, you have to apply populist pressure from outside Washington.

This has been the umpteenth installment in our ongoing series, "What the hell is wrong with everybody?"

UPDATE: Somehow, I'd forgotten the closing "you did that" riff from Obama's DNC speech.

You see, the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens — you were the change.

The distractable style of the Romney campaign, the focus on "gaffes" like this, seems to be re-emerging.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.