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Believer: My Forty Years in Politics by…

Believer: My Forty Years in Politics (2015)

by David Axelrod

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1293146,477 (4.09)8
The legendary strategist, the mastermind behind Barack Obama's historic election campaigns, shares a wealth of stories from his forty-year journey through the inner workings of American democracy.

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A mostly fascinating look of a political career. I'll be honest. I was only interested in this book for Axlerod's work on the Obama campaign and administration. But if you have any interest in politics, this is a pretty good read, and MUCH more readable than other "memoirs" that are out there.
We get an overview of his life, from his beginnings as a reporter, marriage, birth of his children with wife Susan (one of whom develops epilepsy), and his work with other political figures. Most of this was rather boring to me, I have to admit. While I sometimes enjoy reading up a bit on the personal lives of some, this was definitely not something I cared for. Chicago politics bore me (despite the supposed drama and sinister undertones I never found it interesting to read up on).
The stuff on the Obama campaigns and his work during the administration is really good. The 2008 campaign is covered more fully (I thought) and it was fascinating to read about his work on there as well as extrapolating some of the larger messages in terms of running campaigns (for example, the Reverend Wright controversy could have been entirely avoided or at least mitigated if the campaign had done it's defensive research. They didn't and so they were totally unprepared for this). Although it would lead to an excellent speech by then-Senator Obama it was interesting to see how Axelrod showed that in a moment he found out a piece of the campaign had failed badly and it could have been the killing blow.
His stuff in the administration is less blow-by-blow and more event based (health care and the like). One thing I really appreciated was his humor: Axelrod describes how he watched then candidate Martha Coakley deride standing outside of Boston's Fenway Park. The President apparently walked in right when Axelrod was listening to the comments she was made on TV and freaked out. He describes President Obama pulling on Axelrod's shirt and jumping up and down while crying out she was going to lose. Unfortunately he was right, but the image Axelrod paints for the readers made me laugh for a good few minutes.
He was less involved in the 2012 campaign, but he does a really job in retelling the campaign story, from launch to the Debate Disaster of Denver (and has some rather insightful information about the doubt Obama felt about himself) to Election Night. Overall, while messaging and framing is Axelrod's job, he is also a good storyteller for the most part and we do not get lost in the retelling.
In the end it was a mostly good read, although as I said I was only interested for the parts directly related to Obama and even then there were sections that I had to skim over because Axelrod gets a little too bogged down in some parts. It's also a good read if you've read other Obama campaign/presidency books and will serve as a compliment. I would not say that you *have* to read any specific book, but if you have little knowledge (or can't remember or don't care) about elections, this is definitely not for you, or at least keep the internet readily available to look up stuff.
It's also fun to see where people are after the end of the book's story (Election Night or thereabouts in 2012), although I am reading this not long after it was published. For example, Coakley would go on to lose another election, and Axelrod's assessment of her as an "indifferent" candidate during her Senate race seems to be right on.
Borrowed from the library but political types will probably enjoy it for an airplane read (it's a long book) and as a reference. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
I really enjoyed reading about David Axelrod and his years in politics. I also loved revisiting the thrill we felt when Obama won the election to the Presidency, and then went on to be re-elected, too. There was a great deal of optimism and hope in those days, and we do not seem to see enough of those feelings today. ( )
  maggie1944 | Nov 5, 2016 |
David Axelrod has written a paean to his favorite politician, Barack Obama. The book is also a memoir of a gifted political insider. Although the title, Believer, would imply that Axelrod has some “higher” motivation underpinning his career as a political strategist, he hasn’t always found the most worthy role models for whom to apply his skills; at one time he conducted the election campaigns of the notorious Rod Blagojevich, the former (and currently imprisoned) governor of Illinois, known for mediocrity as well as for a tendency toward graft.

Nonetheless, Axelrod contends that in Barack Obama he found a worthy focus for his efforts, believing Obama’s objectives to be praiseworthy. Axelrod began working with Obama in 2002, and quickly became Obama’s éminence grise, the principal architect of the strategies that helped Obama get elected first to the U.S. Senate, and then twice to the nation’s highest office, despite the fact that Obama had very little prior experience that prepared him for the work ahead. Axelrod hoped in part that he would feel energized and inspired by Obama’s optimism and idealism; after working in Chicago politics for so long, Axelrod felt cynical.

Unfortunately, once Obama got into office, it seemed (and still does seem) as if the Republications were determined to defeat every initiative of Obama’s no matter its merits. But beyond reproaching the Republicans and pointing out that Obama inherited major problems when he took over the Oval Office, Axelrod doesn’t offer much analysis about what happened to most of the hopes that were more characteristic of the confident candidate than the oft-stymied President.

About half of the book is devoted to Axelrod’s personal history, which is also interesting, especially for a look at the path one might take to become an important counselor to the movers and shakers of the world. Axelrod studied politics at the University of Chicago, and then wrote a political column for the Chicago Tribune. But he realized he didn’t want just to write about the political process; he wanted to be a part of it.

He founded a political consulting firm, and got the job of running the re-election campaign of Chicago's first African-American mayor, Harold Washington. The expertise he gained in building cross-racial coalitions would eventually lead to his successful campaign management of the nation’s first black president. And it is that story, more than just Axelrod’s own, that is the most compelling.

Evaluation: Axelrod seems affable, unaffected, and still wide-eyed, in spite of his fear of having been made jaded by Chicago politics. He isn’t totally uncritical of Obama, but is definitely supportive of him and what he has tried to accomplish. Most importantly, Axelrod has been an insider during a pivotal moment in American history, and thus has a very engaging story to tell.

As a side note, Axelrod continues to push for higher ends through the nonpartisan Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago that he founded in 2012. His stated mission is "to ignite in young people a passion for politics and public service." We have attended a number of his programs [most of them being open to the public], in which prominent speakers discuss current events and political life, generally in an interactive format. It is truly inspirational to observe the idealism and enthusiasm with which participants engage in the exchange of ideas. Axelrod is continuing to make a difference, and is providing many others with opportunities to learn to make a difference as well.

(JAB) ( )
  nbmars | Aug 14, 2015 |
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