Neera Tanden, Jennifer Palmieri and James Davis are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton
Original Air Date: October 29, 2011 on SiriusXM Satellite Radio “POTUS” Channel 124
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Show also available for download on Apple iTunes by clicking here.
For our 32nd episode of Polioptics, we welcomed two women with a broad following in Washington: Neera Tanden and Jennifer Palmieri.
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A collective “huzzah” went up from a lot of people who know a lot of people with the announcement that Neera Tanden would succeed John Podesta as the President for the Center for American Progress. Of course, it wasn’t anything about John — he sealed his legend long ago. But having Neera ascend to the top rung of one of Washington’s most influential organizations is itself a manifestation of the American Dream coming true. And it’s also one of those infrequent moments when its impossible to find anyone to utter so much as a whisper of anything negative about the person in question.
Back a few jobs ago, in the spring of 2007 when Neera was the policy director for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Times of India shared with readers what few outside her circle knew:
Challenging the hackneyed concept where perfect Indian families living in the US send their children to snooty B-schools and then set them on the road to success, Neera’s parents divorced when she was five. Neera’s mother was on welfare for nearly two years before she got a job as a travel agent and put Neera and her brother Raj through school.
Tanden talked plainly about receiving food stamps and working her way through the University of California and Yale Law School. As Tanden said in that Times of India piece: “I benefited a great deal from the government while I was growing up. Since I realised at a very early stage that I did not belong to a family with many connections, I have worked hard to attain the success I have had.”
And that she has. Going back to the Clinton White House and up through the Obama-Biden Campaign and into the Center for American Progress, Neera Tanden has been at the forefront of new idea creation for the Democratic Party.
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The Center for American Progress has another major weapon in Jennifer Palmieri, who has built a peerless reputation as a master communicator beginning with her days working for Leon Panetta in the U.S. House of Representatives. At CAP, she’s the President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Senior Vice President for Communications for the Center for American Progress.
Today, Palmieri’s communications team at CAP is a juggernaut, seizing control of the narrative on a range of issues often found on Page 1 of the nation’s major newspapers. They’re masters of video and social media, and their Website has something for everyone, including cartoons.
Despite all this, those of us who’ve known Palmieri a long time might refer to her present work at CAP as a quiet refuge. She worked in the Clinton White House for eight years, a survival rate matched by few, working alongside Chiefs of Staff Leon Panetta and John Podesta, and was a deputy press secretary who worked with Joe Lockhart and Jake Siewert and turned off the lights in the Clinton years in 2001. But it was right back to the electoral wars for Palmieri, serving as national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee during the 2002 election cycle.
But that was just the start of it. In 2004, Palmieri, along with Nick Baldick and Jonathan Prince, was at the heart of the Edwards for President Campaign which resulted in Edward’s receiving the Democratic nomination for Vice President of the United States. After Kerry and Edwards lost the 2004 race, Palmieri remained a close confidante of Elizabeth Edwards until her passing in late 2010.
Early in 2010, when Mark Halperin and John Heilemann published Game Change, their book included an unvarnished portrait of Mrs. Edwards woven into the campaign narrative. Palmieri was quick to offer a contrasting portrait in a widely read column in the Washington Post, offering an image of a woman she said was “truly a call-her-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-she-will-drop-everything-to-help sort.” As Palmieri wrote of Elizabeth in that Post piece:
There were some difficult moments, but she is no diva. I don’t know of many other campaign spouses who make airport runs to pick up staff or insist that she be put on cheap, inconvenient flights and booked in cheap hotels to save the campaign money. She never cared much about her appearance and had to be forced to carry a purse. (I still recall the look on New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny’s face when she pulled her credit card from her bra once to pay for her lunch — priceless.)
That’s Elizabeth Edwards. And that’s Jennifer Palmieri: pointed, poignant, a fighter, a friend.
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In our second segment of Polioptics this week, we welcome James Davis, who’s busy preparing Tampa to welcome the next Republican nominee for President of the United States to Florida next summer. In 2012, the Republican Party is coming to the Sunshine State.