Saturday, August 13, 2016

Axelrod's Believer Confirms Why I Am One

Those of you who know me well are aware that I am fascinated by politics, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I faithfully read at least two national newspapers each day and, if pressed, would even skip the book reviews for the political beat. I've been disillusioned and disappointed before, worked as a poll watcher, and as secretary of my local Democratic club. Honestly, I can't even say that I'm shocked at the current state of affairs in the United States. At this age, nothing can shock me any more.

Product DetailsSo it was in this frame of mind that I downloaded David Axelrod's "Believer, My Forty Years in Politics." As the man behind the message for Senator and then President Barack Obama, I was predisposed to love Axelrod. His sad sack body language, and that rumpled, hangdog look belie the fact that he is a brilliant strategist and an honorable man. No wonder his twenty-year relationship with the president has stood the test of time and politics.

Axelrod gives readers background without an ounce of self-pity. Basically abandoned by his mother, raised by a father whom he loved and admired but who committed suicide during David's freshman year in college, Axelrod worked his way through school just barely, preferring his jobs on local Chicago newspapers to the tedium of the classroom. In the middle of the action is where he always preferred to be.

With a self-deprecating style Axelrod reads his own book, highlighting as many of his failures as his successes, and gives generous kudos to his wife Susan for holding down the fort so often when his job took him on the road. Especially poignant is the love and heartbreak he and Susan faced when they realized that their daughter had been born with severe learning disabilities.

Naturally, for me, the supreme enjoyment of the book is in the behind the scenes look at various elections over the past several decades, both small and large, but never insignificant. From the down and dirty mayoral races in Chicago, to Bush/Gore, and Kerry/Edwards, and the fantastical rise of a community organizer from the south side of Chicago to the freshman senate seat and the audacious run for president, I hung on every word.

Axelrod is long on praise for most of the people he's worked with over the years, saving his criticism for a very few. I was gratified to have a few of my suspicions over the years confirmed. John Edwards was truly as shallow and weak as we now know him to be. Long before "she was in remission" when I cheated on her, Axelrod had Edwards' number and removed himself from the campaign. Joe Biden and his family are actually as warm and loving as they seem in public, if not more so. He was Obama's first choice for VP from the jump and has proved to be worth his weight in gold.

And though my friend Don and I disagree heartily on this, Valerie Jarrett was a thorn in many sides from the very first day in office. Brought in as "special advisor to the president," she has, in my opinion, had too much power. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton comes out strong and capable, showing up the naysayers who didn't want Obama to have anything to do with her and serving proudly as Secretary of State.

Of course, it is the president who shines throughout this fascinating book. His determination to weather the short term pushback and bad press for long-term gains for the country and its people, renews one's faith in the political process. He was willing to be a one-term president if it meant getting the Affordable Care Act through, incurring the wrath of the right and disillusionment from his own people on the left. If you've ever wondered how anything gets done in government, Axelrod's window into the inner workings of campaigns and their results is wonderfully revealing.

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