By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: David Axelrod
Narration by: David Axelrod
“Believer” exposes the invidious role of money, the out-sized influence of special interests, and political prostitution in American politics. David Axelrod recounts the 2008 campaign, the election of an American President, and the trials of the first Black Commander and Chief. Unquestionably, the influence of money and political prostitution are not Axelrod’s primary purpose in writing the book, but both are glaringly apparent in his peregrinations.
Election campaigns are meat-packing exercises; dependent as much on the packer as the quality of the meat. Through campaign experience and luck, Axelrod travels the country as one of President Obama’s chief meat packers. Axelrod’s book is a revealing history of the election and presidency of Barack Obama.
There is an element of self-delusion in Axelrod’s choice to work for political candidates based on aspirant quality. It may be unfair to characterize Axelrod as a prostitute for hire but forty years in a profession associates him with campaigns for Richard M. Daly, Rod Blagojevich, Eliot Spitzer, and John Edwards. Of course, no one is perfect, but packaging candidates to appeal to an electorate is inherently distasteful. At times, one feels Axelrod is writing “Believer” to package himself as a political idealist rather than opportunist. It is disingenuous to suggest money, power, and prestige are not at the heart of most political strategists campaigning for a candidate.
However, Axelrod’s history of the Obama’ campaign shows the 44th President of the United States to be a tough-minded individualist; in spite of an election process that emphasizes image over substance. Obama is shown by Axelrod to be his own man; competitively driven to fulfill his campaign promises, and fight for what he believes to be right, even when not politically expedient. After listening to Axelrod’s book, one understands why the title of the book is “Believer”.
Barrack Obama may have been packaged but Axelrod shows Obama is more than image. Axelrod reflects on Obama’s substance in a speech given at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
According to Axelrod, the speech is written and edited by the candidate; not his handlers. Axelrod interestingly notes that the national campaign asked that a line “no red states or blue states; only the United States” be taken out of Obama’s speech so Kerry could use it in his unsuccessful campaign for President.
Axelrod recounts many instances where Obama is more than image. Axelrod tells the story of Reverend Wright’s sermons that nearly dismantle Obama’s earned goodwill in early campaign speeches. Reverend Wright is characterized by the media as an Obama’ mentor. Rather than allow political handlers spin a story to blunt Wright’s controversial comments, Obama writes a speech about race that is unedited by any of his team members. REVEREND WRIGHT’S INCENDIARY REMARKS:
Axelrod acknowledges that no one but a person who has lived as a black man in America could justifiably stand up to Wright’s incendiary remarks. OBAMA’S RESPONSE TO REVEREND WRIGHT:
It is emotional to re-live the great moments of the campaign in Axelrod’s narration of the story. One easily understands why many became true supporters and believers in what Obama had to say. At the same time, Axelrod notes that campaigning and governing are two different occupations. Axelrod shows how Obama excels at campaigning. Obama’s governing ability remains a work in progress with history being the final arbiter of Obama’s skill as Commander and Chief.
There are many arguments to be made that deny Obama lives up to his election campaign rhetoric. Some will argue that circumstances of the economy and the electorate made fulfilling many of the promises impossible. Non-believers will argue that Obama fails to understand the true meaning and value of Democracy. The non-believers think America’s more historical version of freedom, capitalism, and democracy will correct what Obama has done wrong and reinforce what Obama has done right.
It is easy to appreciate Axelrod’s fine presentation of many controversial policies enacted during Obama’s first term. Axelrod defines Obama’s tenacity in pushing universal health coverage for Americans in the face of opposition from his own advisers, and all but three Republicans. Undoubtedly, Obama’s tenacity causes the loss of a Democratic majority in Congress. That loss leads to a polarization of the most reviled American’ Congress in history. The facts are, a majority of American voters in 2008, confirm the title of Axelrod’s book—each became a “Believer”; and enough retained that belief, to elect Obama for a second term.
Still, the fundamental issue is–many candidates for public office are packaged by handlers that are only interested in what is good for themselves; not necessarily good for the country. Candidates often get elected because of their image; not because of their character. Part of the blame lies with the industry that Axelrod represents. American’ opinion polls, influenced by special interests, are often used by people in Axelrod’s industry as image tools for candidate’ speeches. The speech makes the candidate look good but often to the detriment of truth or the best interest of the public. It is the rare politician who can survive an election process without kowtowing to public opinion polls; i.e. polls most often influenced by special interests. The Affordable Care Act and the insurance industry are a case in point; i.e. the ACA would never have passed without the tacit support of the insurance industry.
However history measures the Obama’ Presidency, Axelrod illustrates the best and worst of the American political system in “Believer”. After listening to “Believer”, one may see Axelrod as a self-interested seeker of fame and fortune. On the other hand, Axelrod may be what he views himself to be; i.e. an altruistic seeker of the “good” for America.