Axelrod: Obama Elected Because America Wanted President Who 'Understood the Gray'

Former White House senior advisor David Axelrod said he was attracted to work for President Obama because he’s among “a smaller and very admirable category of people who run for office because they want to do something,” not the “more numerous category of people who run for office because they want to be something.”


Axelrod’s new book, Believer: My 40 Years in Politics, came out this week. He’s revealed that Obama lied about “evolving” on same-sex marriage, asserting that he was for it all along.

The book also says that Obama was angry after Mitt Romney’s concession call in 2012 because he thought Romney was being racist, and details how much the president despises Maureen Dowd for “psychoanalyzing Barack and belittling him in print.”

Axelrod told PBS Obama “probably has ignored politics to a fault at times, because he believes that, when you get elected, you’re elected to do things and not just be something.”

On his poor relationship with Congress, “he hasn’t related to them in the right way at all times.”

“But, on the other hand, I look at this guy, and at the set of decisions that he made when I was in the White House, in those first two very difficult years, where I believe he saved the American economy, or very much helped to save the American economy, the auto industry, made a very difficult decision on health care,” Axelrod continued. “Some politicians criticize him for it, because they say it was a bad political decision. He knew it was a bad political decision, but he thought it was the right decision for the country. That inspires me and a lot of people who have health care today who wouldn’t otherwise have had it.”


He said Obama was elected in 2008 because America wanted a president who saw gray areas.

“In 2008, people were looking at George Bush and they thought he was a bit bombastic, kind of Manichaean in the way he saw the world, black and white,” Axelrod said.

“They wanted someone who saw the nuances and who understood the gray, and they picked a guy named Barack Obama. And he did do that, and he was the right man for the times. I think the pendulum swung back a little now. They don’t want someone who is going to challenge the system, so much as someone who can manage the system, someone who knows the system,” he said.

“I think that there’s a feeling that he didn’t do that. I think he’s been incredibly accomplished. I think history will be good to him in that regard. But that is one place where you would say, yes, he hasn’t been a great manager of events in Washington.”

That will be Hillary Clinton’s strong point in 2016, he argued. “I think Hillary will appeal to people on that basis, because they see her as someone who may have the ability to manage the system a little better.”


Axelrod said he wanted the subtitle on the cover of the book to read, “How My Idealism Survived 40 Years in Politics.”

“I think the media environment, for one thing, has made politics more difficult, this sort of immediacy of the Twitter, social media age, in which a news cycle or several can get hijacked by stories that ultimately mean nothing. And there’s very little time for reflection,” he said of the current landscape. “That makes it harder.”


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