David Axelrod, until recently, was a White House aide and a true believer in the power of politics to change lives. Now retired from the campaign trail, Axelrod is looking back, and this morning, he shares his thoughts with Jim (no relation) Axelrod:
To understand David Axelrod, think less about Washington, D.C., and the Oval Office, and much more about Chicago . . . and Manny's Delicatessen.
"I always say I come here to clog my arteries and clear my head," he said.
Axelrod is the political consultant who fashioned "Yes, We Can" into a rhetorical machete that cleared the path to the White House for a first-term Senator with just two years under his belt.
"The conversations you have here are very reflective of what's going on in people's lives," he said. "I missed that when I was in Washington. I missed just the day-to-day interaction with people that you can have here on a regular basis."
He's back home now, after two years in the White House as a senior counselor and then heading up the 2012 reelection campaign -- spending time at the Institute of Politics he founded at his alma mater, the University of Chicago.
Axelrod has written a book, "Believer" (Penguin), a consideration of his 40 years in politics -- working for Democrats from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, and plenty of the party's biggest names in-between.
"I realized in writing the book that the people who I was most drawn to were the people who really cared deeply about what they were doing and were fighting for something larger than just winning elections," he said.
Politics grabbed Axelrod early -- on the street where he grew up in New York City, mesmerized by John F. Kennedy in 1960. He was five.
"JFK was speaking down there, right in front of that store on the corner of 20th Street," he said. "And this whole boulevard that was always filled with traffic was filled with people instead."
Did he, as a five-year-old, have any idea who he was seeing? "I had a vague idea," Axelrod said. "But what was clear to me was that this was, like, really, really important."
He was hooked, starting work as a foot soldier in local elections by the time he was 10. His first job out of college was at the Chicago Tribune, soon working his way up to covering city politics.
"I was intrigued by campaigns and politics," he said. "I wrote about them with the eye of someone who was interested in strategy. So when the opportunity came, I was drawn to it."
That opportunity came in 1984, when Illinois Congressman Paul Simon needed help with his Senate campaign. He liked Axelrod's style, and the feeling was mutual.
"His pants were always about five inches too short, because some constituent bequeathed him six suits and he never got them tailored," Axelrod said. "He was that kind of guy. I knew he would never be corrupted. I knew that he would never embarrass me, and he never did."
Axelrod would spend the next 20 years crafting messages for big city mayors (Harold Washington), governors (Deval Patrick), and senators (Hillary Clinton).