David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief campaign strategist and former senior advisor, spoke to students at an off-the-record event on Monday. FM was lucky enough to catch him in the hallway to talk on the record about the president’s re-election campaign, the 2012 youth vote, and Elizabeth Warren.
Fifteen Minutes (FM): Last week, President Obama chided Republicans for refusing to raise revenues on millionaires and billionaires—appealing to the “Buffet Rule”—and it has been called one of his most partisan speeches in recent memory. Is that a tactic to appease a straying liberal base?
David Axelrod (DA): No, I think first and foremost it’s part of his strongly held view about what we have to do as a country. What we’ve learned is that we need to involve the American people much more integrally in these fights. The inside back-and-forth has not been a productive exercise.
What these members of Congress need to hear is from their neighbors and voters about what they want to see in this country. There’s no doubt that when he articulated that position the President was articulating a widely held view in this country. So the question is whether the voice of the American people will be heard in the Chamber. He’s talking directly to the American people.
FM: If you look at students at this stage during the last election, people were a little more riled up. There is a certain amount of apathy around college campuses. Is it troubling to you?
DA: Obviously we need to organize all over the country, but my admonition to students is to get involved because there is so much at stake, and [students] have more at stake than anyone else. We’ve had other periods of apathy in our country. There was apathy in 2000, and Al Gore lost that election to George W. Bush by 300 votes, and as a result we wound up in Iraq …[and] we took a big step back in terms of climate change. Much of the world would have been different had that election gone the other way.
There is a very clear choice here—the president offers a very distinct vision about where to take this country and you don’t want to be in a position years from now where you say, “Gee, I wish I had been involved in 2012 and we could have stopped some of these bad decisions and put the country on a different path.” And that’s what this is about.
FM: Speaking more specifically to Massachusetts, how anxious is the Obama Camp to take back Ted Kennedy’s seat?
DA: Well, I think it’s important for the country … Elizabeth Warren is a friend of ours, she worked with us, she was an inspiration to the President, and an inspiration to his idea—now implemented—of a Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. She would be a great voice for the middle class in the United States Senate, so I think the whole country is going to be watching Massachusetts closely.