On February 16th David Axelrod spoke to a full lecture hall at the International House about his new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics. While Axelrod did not solely write about his experience working for President Obama, it was clearly the focus of the event. For the first 45 minutes, Axelrod answered questions from a moderator, and for the last 30 minutes took questions from the crowd.
Axelrod spoke about a wide range of events that he discusses in the book, including the first presidential debate of 2012, the message battle over the Affordable Care Act, and partisanship in Washington. Hearing about the more personal interactions Axelrod had with the president was the most enlightening aspect of the event, and gave me a better understanding of a more personal side of Obama. For instance, Axelrod spoke in depth about the first presidential debate in 2012, which was widely credited as the worst moment of the campaign for Obama. Axelrod recounted Obama’s resistance to preparing for the debate, as well as his distaste for the format for the debate. Obama, normally a very competitive person, before the debate proclaimed “lets get this over with.” The sale of the Affordable Care Act to the public has been widely criticized, and Axelrod spoke in defense of the White House, explaining what he believed the problem was. While the Affordable Care Act included many sections that improved health care for everyone with insurance, the media described the bill as a welfare bill for the uninsured. This was a message failure because only 15% of the population needed insurance. The bill’s appearance as a welfare bill for a small group of people torpedoed its public support. Axelrod, an authority on message politics and on the Obama administration, was able to speak about issues with the Obama campaign as well as with Obama’s presidency, in a candor that I have not heard before.
While I didn’t pick up a book at the event (hardbacks are really expensive), I look forward to reading his book. His insights into President Obama’s campaign and presidency will be illuminating, however I am most excited to learn about how Axelrod first met Obama, and how Axelrod became the man that took a freshman senator to the White House.