The disillusionment of David Axelrod
Noam Scheiber's profile of the disillusioned David Axelrod is worth reading. Axelrod, who's been hamhanded at best in his role as Special Envoy to the Professional Left, appears to share their critique of the administration almost entirely. He's presented as being uncomfortable with the concessions of governing, the power of the special interests, the paralysis of the Congress, the wages of pragmatism. He sounds, well, like a liberal.
I can't say whether Scheiber gets Axelrod right, but the article rings true: I've found Axelrod a puzzling spokesperson because he seems defensive over the administration's compromises rather than confident in their successes. Sharing in the critique he's rebutting would explain that ambivalence. “In terms of the short-term mentality, the unwillingness to take risks, the way every day is scored like the Super Bowl—all those things he believed, I think, have been confirmed in the extreme,” David Plouffe tells Scheiber. “But it’s not like he was caught by surprise. He understood that. It’s what he expected.”
So why didn't he do more to change it?
A governance agenda is not totally inimical to a reform agenda. It's true that it's difficult to cut deals with the pharmaceutical companies and then decry the influence of special interests. But in theory, it's hard to cut deals with insurers and then attack them from the stump -- and the administration is perfectly at home doing that.
The reality is that the Obama world critique of Washington has always been fuzzy. Is the problem money? Partisanship? The news cycle? Short-term thinking? And even if it's all those things, what's to be done about it?
This isn't an ancient riddle. Dealing with money requires pushing for campaign-finance reform, but the administration responded to the outrage of Citizens United with the band-aid of the DISCLOSE Act rather than the root-and-branch reform of the Fair Elections Now legislation. Partisanship is mainly a problem because of the filibuster, and though Axelrod and the President have lamented the tactic's prevalence, they haven't supported efforts to do away with it. They haven't even made it part of their communications strategy. Remember how often the Bush administration talked about up-or-down votes? As for the news cycle, the administration's critique of 24-hour news has always been that it doesn't really matter. And they're right. And if they want more long-term thinking, they should make more long-term proposals. Instead they've abandoned big stimulus projects and contented themselves with small-ball policies that they could pass rather than big-think ideas that could inspire.
Axelrod and the Obama administration may not like Washington. But the reality is, they haven't done all that much to change it. It's of course true that they've also been busy, and there's only time for so much in a term. But here, in the days before the election, we're talking about the Bush tax cuts and offshoring bills. There was room for a push on these issues, if only a rhetorical one. There was room for some new thinking on taxes. There was room for the Fair Elections Now Act. One of Axelrod's common complaints is that the president's supporters too often give up when faced with the grueling slog of change. But at times, so too does the White House.
Photo credit: White House.
| September 28, 2010; 9:02 AM ET
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