Originally published April 2015
Full disclosure here—I’m an unabashed liberal.
So of course I would enjoy any story that ends with a fairytale finish, like that of David Axelrod’s “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.”
Even the most disinterested in politics would gather that Axelrod’s memoir would be comprised largely of his relationship with President Obama, and certainly, that plays a large role throughout the nearly 500 pages. And the insight into Obama’s beginnings, back in the days of his Senate race in Illinois through his election to a second term as President of the United States is worthy to read on its own.
But for me, the book was more about the evolution of a person—Axelrod—from an admitted slacking student to his passion for journalism and then, politics, was fascinating in and of itself. The storytelling takes front and center in his book, which chronicles his youthful start as a student at the University of Chicago and subsequent job as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, through his transition to professional campaign operative.
And it’s the storytelling that offered up some very satisfying historical color to what was the political scene of my earliest political memories, with names like Simon, Byrne and Washington. What’s more, the circle within which these figures operated is small, for from those offices came some of the names we know today, including Daley (the son) and Rahm (ever the bombastic campaigner and political figurehead).
But perhaps unintentional for the author (or maybe, not so much), was that the book also serves as a testament to the real power behind some of the greatest men the political arena has seen in this generation—women.
Axelrod talks in depth about his mother and how her decision to work outside the home affected his upbringing and perhaps her marriage. And of his wife, who he admits bore the sacrificial brunt of his career trajectory, putting aside her own so that she could be there for their children—allowing him to fully focus on a job which took him away from home more often than either cared for.
The strength of women in politics wasn’t just familial for him—it’s clear that women play a significant role not just on the national stage, in the form of Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton and Valerie Jarrett, but locally, as well—in fact, it’s rare that a pol’s better half isn’t readily represented as such in Axelrod’s narrative. The parallel in Richard Daley having to break it to Maggie he wants to run for mayor isn’t all that far removed from Obama having to convince his wife, or even from Axelrod himself having to talk to his wife, Susan, about his options.
I enjoyed the feminist bent—intentional or otherwise. But mostly, in a time of great political disdain, it felt good to feel inspired again—that there are passionate, courageous folk willing to work hard to see the right and just accomplished. I can only hope the next generation is as inspired as this band of brothers and sisters.