Barbra Streisand Tells Axelrod that the President Needs to Talk to People in Simpler Terms: ‘I Hate to Say it, but People are Stupid’Posted: February 10, 2015
President Obama is in the middle of his fight to pass the Affordable Care Act. This is the book’s most politically compelling chapter, though the word “ObamaCare” is entirely absent. Some in the White House, such as chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, worry that the stumbling, unpopular effort to pass the ACA will damage Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. “Rahm recommended scaling back to a plan that would cover fewer people, but garner more votes,” Mr. Axelrod writes.
When President Obama asks what the odds are of passing the most ambitious bill possible, his congressional liaison, Phil Schiliro, replies, “Depends how lucky you feel, Mr. President.”
Mr. Obama smiles and says: “Can I say this? I always feel lucky. Let’s go all in. When your name is Barack Obama and you’re the president of the United States, how can you not feel lucky?”
Mr. Axelrod’s name will be yoked forever to that of Mr. Obama, though people often misconstrue his role. Mr. Axelrod was not the Obama campaign manager in 2008. That was David Plouffe. He was not President Obama’s first chief of staff. That was Rahm Emanuel.
A fair summary of Mr. Axelrod’s role would be to say that until he left the White House in February 2011, he was in charge of the Obama “message.” Normally in politics, “message” has a particular meaning—using media to promote a set of ideas and positions. Mr. Axelrod, however, believes (thus, the book’s title) that he was involved in something larger than the mere grubwork of political messaging. Describing his position in the 2008 presidential campaign, he writes: “My role was Keeper of the Message and, I believed, the idealistic flame.”
Mr. Axelrod describes how that idealistic flame ignited early in his life, at the age of five. He was taken to a John F. Kennedy campaign rally in New York City, where he says he “somehow” absorbed the message “we are masters of our future, and politics is the means by which we shape it.”
“It has been said that Mr. Axelrod was Barack Obama’s Svengali. Reading “Believer” made me think you could as easily say that Mr. Obama was David Axelrod’s Svengali.”
At nine, he took himself to the local Manhattan Democratic club to volunteer for Bobby Kennedy ’s New York Senate campaign.
Politics pulled him in because he sensed “it was about big, noble ideals. It was about history and historic change.” Years later—by now a Chicago political consultant whose clients had included Sen. Paul Simon, Mayor Harold Washington and Gov. Rod Blagojevich—he was working to make Barack Obama president.
It has been said that Mr. Axelrod was Barack Obama’s Svengali. Reading “Believer” made me think you could as easily say that Mr. Obama was David Axelrod’s Svengali.
“Believer” is a hagiography, a life of what for Mr. Axelrod is a saint-like figure in American politics. On the cusp of announcing his run for the presidency, Sen. Obama is asked by an associate about his plans. Mr. Axelrod writes that Mr. Obama replied: “It may not be exactly the time I would pick, but sometimes the times pick you.”
Opening his account of the White House years, Mr. Axelrod says everything he saw in Washington “confirmed Obama’s campaign critique: most members of Congress are fundamentally concerned with winning and holding on to their seats and to power.” Closing the book, he says Mr. Obama has “limited patience or understanding” for officeholders and what Mr. Axelrod calls their parochial concerns, “which would include most members of Congress and many world leaders.”
In Mr. Axelrod’s telling, Mr. Obama brought to the presidency a….(read more)
Mr. Henninger, deputy editor of the editorial page, writes the Wonder Land column.
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