Longtime political adviser Axelrod, late of the White House, tells most of what he’s seen in the cloakroom.
Barack Obama is intensely competitive, a fighter. He drinks a little and swears a lot, sometimes exultantly, and he’s disappointed: he thought he could do business with John Boehner, but no—and if you think racism has nothing to do with it, as Axelrod resignedly writes, “some folks simply refuse to accept the legitimacy of the first black president and are seriously discomforted by the growing diversity of our country.” Though the comedians Key and Peele have hilariously imagined an angry black alter ego for the president, Axelrod assures us that Obama remains above the racial fray, always rational and calm, “welcome qualities after the bombast and bluster of the Bush-Cheney era.” Partisan zingers are comparatively and surprisingly few for so renowned a street fighter. Instead, Axelrod concentrates on spinning yarns about how things get done in the day-to-day tumble of politics and, of course, on his former boss, whom he obviously admires while wishing, perhaps, that the gloves would come off a bit more often. The author writes that he was introduced to Obama in 1992 with the assurance, from a Democratic activist, that here “could be the first black president,” but the actual mechanics of how that happened are of greater interest in the telling, with Axelrod tracing deep connections to the political enterprise of another Illinoisan—not Lincoln but Paul Simon, the nerdy but powerful scholar who managed to get a lot done in his years in Washington. Axelrod’s careful connection of the dots provides an illuminating study in how political power moves from generation to generation. The book-closing call to remake politics would sound like so much cheerleading in other hands, but Axelrod’s connecting of Obama to JFK makes it work.
Obama has been profiled many times but seldom with so practical an outlook. An excellent view of politics from the inside.