Barack Obama thought 'Yes We Can' was 'too corny' — but Michelle did not

President Barack Obama turns around to respond to hecklers interrupting his speech about immigration reform, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama's speech was dramatically interrupted by hecklers, located directly behind him, who urged him to halt deportations, of which his administration has conducted a record number. One young man shouted about his family being separated for Thanksgiving, and said Obama should use his executive power to stop this. "Stop deportations, yes we can," the man and other people chanted. The president stopped Secret Service agents who tried to remove the protesters.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama turns around to respond to hecklers interrupting his speech about immigration reform, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama's speech was dramatically interrupted by hecklers, located directly behind him, who urged him to halt deportations, of which his administration has conducted a record number. One young man shouted about his family being separated for Thanksgiving, and said Obama should use his executive power to stop this. "Stop deportations, yes we can," the man and other people chanted. The president stopped Secret Service agents who tried to remove the protesters.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

During his 2004 run for U.S. Senate, Barack Obama wondered if the campaign slogan Yes We Can was too corny.

According to David Axelrod, Obama's media consultant at the time, it took Michelle Obama to convince the then-Illinois state senator that it wasn’t.

Michelle just happened to come by for the first ad shoot, and that was the ad that closed with the line 'Yes we can,' Axelrod told the New York Times Magazine. He read through the script once, and after the first take, he said, Gee, is that too corny? I explained why I thought it was a great tagline, and he turned to Michelle and said, What do you think?' She just slowly shook her head from side to side and said, 'Not corny. Thank God she was there that day.

Obama, of course, won the 2004 election, and the “Yes We Can tagline returned during his 2008 campaign for president, becoming a rallying cry for supporters — not to mention a song and music video for will.I.am.

Axelrod, Obama’s chief campaign advisor-turned-senior White House advisor, admits the administration has not achieved the promise of its other slogan: “Change We Can Believe In.

“There was this expectation that if Obama got elected, the whole world would change overnight and that political combatants would drop their arms and hold hands and sing Kumbaya and we’d all march forward together as one big happy family, Axelrod said. “That was never in the cards.

More from the Times interview:

But Obama was elected on the promise of a wholesale change to our political culture. By that measure, how would you grade him?

Look, I was very honest about this in the book — by that standard we didn’t achieve what we set out to achieve. We clearly haven’t changed the tone in Washington.


Axelrod is promoting his new memoir, “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics” — a book that’s already caused a mini dustup with his former boss.

During the 2008 campaign, Axelrod writes that he advised Obama to conceal his support for gay marriage in an effort to help him win the White House.

“I’m just not very good at bulls----ing,” Obama told Axelrod after a campaign event where he declared his opposition to gay marriage, according to the book.

But in an interview with Buzzfeed, Obama said Axelrod was “mixing up my personal feelings with my position” on the issue.

“I think the notion that somehow I was always in favor of marriage per se isn’t quite accurate, Obama said.

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