now this is just the thing David Axelrod was trying to
prevent when his publicist required confidentiality
agreements from reporters getting advance copies of his
book, "Believer: My Forty Years in Politics."
days before the release of the memoir by the man who
engineered Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in
2008, The New York Daily News "obtained" a
copy and published what it deemed the juiciest parts.
among them: Mitt Romney’s concession call in the 2012
the book, Axelrod recalled Obama being
"unsmiling" during the call, and
"slightly irritated when it was over."
president told Axelrod that Romney admitted he was
surprised at his own loss.
Romney insinuated that Obama only won because he got the
vote out "in places like Cleveland and
Milwaukee," Obama told Axelrod, his senior adviser.
other words, black people," Obama said. "That’s
what he thinks this was all about."
59, had barely started his book tour when the Romney
story went viral. Morning news shows, blogs and Beltway
blowhards were in a feeding frenzy.
what Axelrod had dreaded.
kerfuffle," he said over the phone, munching a
chocolate-covered graham cracker in a car headed to
Terre Haute, Indiana.
how any books that you write get treated these days. It’s
not about the book itself, it’s about what nugget can
be derived from it to cause some sort of controversy
that will last 24 hours.
only tried to write things that would advance the
narrative," Axelrod continued. "I didn’t
want to feed the beast. But the truth is when you write
it, you never know how people are going to receive
they’re receiving it all right. "Believer"
wasn’t even out when it was a number-one new release
is a well-written tome that holds both the warmth of a
memoir and the cool reality of political strategy.
Axelrod also explains how he and Obama were fused in a
certain idealism; a desire to do the right thing for the
and Obama first met in 2002, when Obama was mulling a
2004 Senate run, despite having just lost a race for
had covered politics for Chicago papers and written
speeches and ads when the two joined forces. It was
Axelrod who came up with "Yes We Can" for the
first TV spot for Obama’s Senate campaign. The slogan
would carry him all the way to the presidency.
whole idea was to make this not just about him, but what
we could do together," Axelrod explained. "And
there was such cynicism that pervades. It told the story
of his life, which defied all conventional wisdom. ‘They
say we can’t change Washington, and I approve this
message to say yes, we can.’
affirmative feeling. And the ‘we’ was what we could
do together. It kind of summed up the gestalt of the
biggest message, though, was "The sense that we
could actually confront some of the big problems that
were facing us, that we had the ability to do
things," Axelrod said. "We could end wars,
reform the health care system, reduce climate change,
end discrimination against gays and lesbians.
the big scheme of things, I think (Obama) lived up to
the challenge the campaign laid out for him. Thinking
about the next generation, not just the next
is strong in his conviction that he is in the White
House to govern, so he rejected the idea of bringing the
political techniques of campaigns, like polls, into his
notion was that we’re not in the campaign
anymore," Axelrod said. "He didn’t get angry
when I presented him with polling numbers suggesting it
was unwise to do something. But he had no problem with
ignoring that advice."
lives in Chicago, where he is a political consultant and
director of the Institute of Politics at the University
and his wife, Susan Landau, have three children and just
had their first grandchild. Their middle child, a girl
named Lauren, suffers from epilepsy, a diagnosis that
played a part in Axelrod’s decision to leave the White
took him a couple of years to adjust.
is nothing like being in the White House because every
single minute, you’re dealing with something hugely
challenging," he said. "You are constantly
stimulated. It’s a little bit of a narcotic."
he recently went to a movie with his wife in the middle
of the day on a weekday and found it
am really appreciative of the time we get to spend
together," he said. "I’m not involved in the
pathology of Washington, a single-industry town."
doesn’t mean he can’t handicap the next presidential
does he believe in?
are plenty of inspiring people in politics," he
said, calling out Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who
invited Axelrod to speak at her Golden Tennis Shoe
as for who should run?
don’t want to do this," Axelrod said,
"because the focus would be on who I omitted."
So, when Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush run for
president, what should their campaigns focus on?
think they will both run on middle-class economic issues
and stagnant wages," Axelrod said. "Jeb has a
bigger challenge getting there. But I think they both
realize how fundamental this is. The American dream says
if you work hard, you will get ahead. If you stay where
you were born, then we’re not America anymore.
need to recapture that," he said. "Or we’re
not going to be who we think we are."