David Axelrod's candid interview with a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter is rustling some feathers in the Obama administration.
The household-name political consultant, who heads up the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, became famous as the mastermind of Barack Obama's presidential campaigns and a White House senior adviser dubbed "Axe" on the Beltway circuit. His quotes are sprinkled throughout journalist Joshua Green's Oct. 23 article, "Obama Is Too Cool for Crisis Management," wherein Axelrod intimates that the president's brainy, introverted style can backfire amid crises (like Ebola and the panic thereof) that require more public expressiveness of a leader.
"He responds in a very rational way, trying to gather facts, rely on the best expert advice, and mobilize the necessary resources," he tells Green of Obama, adding: "There's no doubt that there’s a theatrical nature to the presidency that he resists. Sometimes he can be negligent in the symbolism."
Axelrod references ex-President George W. Bush's dramatic response to Sept. 11 ("I still remember where I was when Bush took the bullhorn at Ground Zero") and laments the mishandling of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill ("I still have searing memories of the leak and our response").
Indeed, Obama's slow-burning, somewhat cloistered approach to events that give Americans pause for alarm often obscures the long-term success of his agenda. See: The post-crash economy, on the up and up; Obamacare; Osama. "Bush didn’t get bin Laden—Obama did," Axelrod observes.
How does the White House respond to Axe's comments? Not with applause.
Crain's Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz reports Obama spokesman Josh Earnest as saying the president "said almost exactly the same thing word for word" during a prior sit-down on Meet the Press, and that "this is an assessment that (he's) acknowledged before in terms of his occasional inattention to the optical aspects of his role."
Earnest continued, "It has not escaped the attention of those of us at the White House that what the president is focused on can, on occasion, be different than what others might be focused on. The president and his administration, at the direction of the president, comes in and, through a lot of hard work, puts in place a solution. But by the time that solution is put in place, everybody has sort of moved on to something else."