An Evening with ‘Believer’ David Axelrod

David Axelrod started off as a journalist, then became a political consultant and then a senior advisor to a president. Now he’s telling his own story – as an author. Paired with CBS News analyst John Dickerson at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Axelrod charmed and delighted hundreds who came out on Feb. 11, a cold Wednesday night.

Axelrod does not suffer from George Will disease. He’s never stuffy, stiff, pedantic, arrogant, haughty or humorless. In fact, he’s very funny, with a Borscht Belt timing that comes naturally. This likable raconteur has loads of stories, and he tells them with a twinkle in his eye and deadpan delivery. He reminded the audience that “nobody watches ‘House of Cards’ as a documentary.” And when they hissed at the mention of former client Rod Blagojevich, he instantly commented, “That’s the usual reaction.”

The crowd of millennials and older suburban liberals listened intently, almost with reverence. Most of all they wanted to hear about their president, Barack Obama.

Axelrod was the man behind the candidate when Obama won his first big race, for the U.S. Senate, in 2004. He described how in a seven-candidate field this black man with a strange name came out on top. Axelrod told his wife that Obama was a long shot, and other candidates would pay him more, but he would go with Obama and “that would be something he could be proud of for the rest of his life.”

He said this with real emotion and genuine conviction. It rings true. He wants you to believe he is a “Believer” – the title of his book, subtitle: “My Forty Years in Politics” – not just a hired gun who will work for anybody. Candid and revealing, he told the crowd that Obama was unhappy in the Senate, so unhappy that he was seriously thinking about leaving Washington and running for governor of Illinois. One day, the senator came off the floor and ran into Axelrod. With a disgusted look on his face, Obama muttered that “all they do is yack, yack.”

The presidential campaign of 2008 was Axelrod’s main focus. He said the 2008 campaign was “willing to take risks” and to “raise our sights.” The Rev. Wright controversy “tested his mettle” when it “brought race screaming back into the campaign.”

Axelrod claimed that Obama as president wants to “take on hard things.” The fight for health insurance for all was a prime example. When asked why Obama has not done more for D.C., his response was meandering but really comes down to: we had to do more important things. He said he “hopes” Obama will do more in the time remaining, but this was not spoken with any passion or force.

He spoke movingly of his own personal struggles, especially his daughter’s epilepsy. Axelrod paid tribute to his wife and all she has done as a caring and loving mother. He closed saying that in politics “you never get the perfect.”

This is a substantive, smart guy who is honest about his trade and tells his story with a savvy Chicago style. He is a welcome departure from the people with whom I’ve dealt in the Obama camp who are – unfortunately and almost universally – arrogant, unpleasant and unattractive in every way. There is more than a little hero-worship of Obama that is sometimes a bit much to take. Axelrod is a fierce Obama loyalist, but that should not stop you from reading his book.

Political analyst Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a contributor to


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