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Believer: My Forty Years in Politics
     

Believer: My Forty Years in Politics

4.3 15
by David Axelrod
 

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New York Times Book Review
“A stout defense--indeed, the best I have read--of the Obama years."

A New York Times Bestseller


David Axelrod has always been a believer. Whether as a young journalist investigating city corruption, a campaign consultant guiding underdog candidates against entrenched

Overview

New York Times Book Review
“A stout defense--indeed, the best I have read--of the Obama years."

A New York Times Bestseller


David Axelrod has always been a believer. Whether as a young journalist investigating city corruption, a campaign consultant guiding underdog candidates against entrenched orthodoxy, or as senior adviser to the president during one of the worst crises in American history, Axelrod held fast to his faith in the power of stories to unite diverse communities and ignite transformative political change. Now this 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. Believer is the tale of a political life well lived, of a man who never gave up on the deepest promises our country has to offer.

Believer reveals the roots of Axelrod’s devotion to politics and his faith in democratic change. As a child of the ’60s in New York City, Axelrod worked his first campaigns during a tumultuous decade that began with soaring optimism and ended in violence and chaos. As a young newspaperman in Chicago during the 1970s and ’80s, Axelrod witnessed another world transformed when he reported on the dissolution of the last of the big city political machines—Richard Daley, Dan Rostenkowski, and Harold Washington—along with the emergence of a dynamic black independent movement that ultimately made Obama’s ascent possible.

After cutting his teeth in the rollicking world of Chicago journalism, Axelrod switched careers to become a political strategist. His unorthodox tactics during his first campaign helped him get Paul Simon unexpectedly elected to the Senate, and soon Axelrod’s counsel was sought by the greatest lights of the Democratic Party. Working for path breakers like Hillary Clinton, Deval Patrick, and Rahm Emanuel—and morally conflicted characters like Rod Blagojevich and John Edwards—Axelrod, for better and worse, redefined the techniques by which modern political campaigns are run.

The heart of Believer is Axelrod’s twenty-year friendship with Barack Obama, a warm partnership that inspired both men even as it propelled each to great heights. Taking a chance on an unlikely candidate for the U.S. Senate, Axelrod ultimately collaborated closely with Obama on his political campaigns, and served as the invaluable strategist who contributed to the tremendous victories of 2008 and 2012. Switching careers again, Axelrod served as senior adviser to the president during one of the most challenging periods in national history: working at Obama’s side as he battled an economic disaster; navigated America through two wars; and fought to reform health care, the financial sector, and our gridlocked political institutions. In Believer, Axelrod offers a deeper and richer profile of this extraordinary figure—who in just four years vaulted from the Illinois State Senate to the Oval Office—from the perspective of one who was at his side every step of the way.

Spanning forty years that include corruption and transformation, turmoil and progress, Believer takes readers behind the closed doors of politics even as it offers a thrilling call to democratic action. Axelrod’s Believer is a powerful and inspiring memoir enlivened by the charm and candor of one of the greatest political strategists in recent American history.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, author of The Bully Pulpit and Team of Rivals
“Beautifully written with warmth, humor, and remarkable self-awareness, Believer is one of the finest political memoirs I have ever read.”




From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Robert Draper
Believer is a well-written and often moving account of how a committed liberal measures his principles against the bruising imperatives of high-stakes politics.
The New York Times Book Review - David Gergen
As a journalist, Axelrod learned how to write for a mass audience, so he tells stories well from Obama's campaigns and from the first couple of years at the White House…what emerges is important: a portrait of political campaigning that is more like what we hope than what we fear, that rises above the machinations and muck…David Axelrod has written a highly readable, uplifting account of the candidate he loves—and, reassuringly, has shown politics can still be a calling, not a business.
From the Publisher
New York Times Book Review (David Gergen):  
"Would Barack Obama have been elected president without David Axelrod? That question is less far-fetched than it may seem... what emerges is important: a portrait of political campaigning that is more like what we hope than what we fear, that rises above the machinations and muck... a stout defense--indeed, the best I have read--of the Obama years... Judging from his first book, Obama has the talent to write the best presidential memoir in modern tunes. It is worth waiting for. But for now, David Axelrod has written a highly readable, uplifting account of the candidate he loves--and, reassuringly, has shown politics can still be a calling, not a business."

The Los Angeles Times
"Axelrod, liberated from the constraints of messaging, is warm and wry, loyal to Obama without being uncritical, and occasionally acid in his appraisals of others — now-Secretary of State John Kerry, political consultant Mark Penn and former Sen. John Edwards will not be among this book's biggest fans. It helps that Axelrod can write. A journalist before he was a political consultant, his book is revealing... but best of all, it is well told — the work of a capable, professional storyteller."

The Economist
"Mr Axelrod has uncommon insights to offer."

New York Times
"The three dominant characters in this political memoir by David Axelrod, one of the Democratic Party’s best-known strategists, are Mr. Axelrod, his once-in-a-lifetime client Barack Obama and belief... Believer is a well-written and often moving account of how a committed liberal measures his principles against the bruising imperatives of high-stakes politics. And, it should be noted, there is ample juice in Mr. Axelrod’s literary steak."

Chicago Tribune
“For sure, political junkies will have trouble putting the book down. And much of Washington will be yanking "Believer" off the shelf and turning to the index to see how they were treated…if you're interested in how the sausage is made, you'll want to read this book.”

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, author of The Bully Pulpit and Team of Rivals
“Beautifully written with warmth, humor, and remarkable self-awareness, Believer is one of the finest political memoirs I have ever read. Through one memorable anecdote after another, Axelrod tells a revealing and moving story of his long and honorable career in public life. This is a thoroughly terrific book.”

DEVAL PATRICK, governor of Massachusetts
“In telling the vivid tales of his own forty years behind the curtain of modern politics, Axelrod reminds us that elections matter to those who don’t engage as well as those who do, effectively challenging us all to get involved.”

MIKE MURPHY, Republican strategist
“David Axelrod has written a remarkable book, a deeply honest and unflinching memoir of his journey from cub journalist to political adviser to the President of the United States. From the boisterous wards of Chicago politics to the Oval Office, Believer takes you inside the political warrior’s life, with its larger-than-life personalities, exhilarating victories, and gut-wrenching defeats. For Axelrod, the goal is victory, but the enemy is cynicism. Anybody, Democrat or Republican, who loves politics should read this book.”

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, chief anchor of ABC News
“David Axelrod was present at the creation of President Obama’s political career. He reflects on their improbable journey with the faithfulness of a reporter, the ferocity of a political operative, and the passion of a true believer. A riveting read.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Library Journal
04/01/2016
Axelrod's autobiography is refreshingly devoid of cynicism, and his love for politics shines throughout. As a strategist and advisor to Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns, he has a close relationship with Obama that is shared by very few others; insights and anecdotes abound. Although Axelrod's enthusiasm does lead to excessive detail about some minor campaigns, political junkies will relish the ride. (LJ 4/15/15)
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-03-03
Longtime political adviser Axelrod, late of the White House, tells most of what he's seen in the cloakroom. Barack Obama is intensely competitive, a fighter. He drinks a little and swears a lot, sometimes exultantly, and he's disappointed: he thought he could do business with John Boehner, but no—and if you think racism has nothing to do with it, as Axelrod resignedly writes, "some folks simply refuse to accept the legitimacy of the first black president and are seriously discomforted by the growing diversity of our country." Though the comedians Key and Peele have hilariously imagined an angry black alter ego for the president, Axelrod assures us that Obama remains above the racial fray, always rational and calm, "welcome qualities after the bombast and bluster of the Bush-Cheney era." Partisan zingers are comparatively and surprisingly few for so renowned a street fighter. Instead, Axelrod concentrates on spinning yarns about how things get done in the day-to-day tumble of politics and, of course, on his former boss, whom he obviously admires while wishing, perhaps, that the gloves would come off a bit more often. The author writes that he was introduced to Obama in 1992 with the assurance, from a Democratic activist, that here "could be the first black president," but the actual mechanics of how that happened are of greater interest in the telling, with Axelrod tracing deep connections to the political enterprise of another Illinoisan—not Lincoln but Paul Simon, the nerdy but powerful scholar who managed to get a lot done in his years in Washington. Axelrod's careful connection of the dots provides an illuminating study in how political power moves from generation to generation. The book-closing call to remake politics would sound like so much cheerleading in other hands, but Axelrod's connecting of Obama to JFK makes it work. Obama has been profiled many times but seldom with so practical an outlook. An excellent view of politics from the inside.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780698145665
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/10/2015
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
528
Sales rank:
84,849
File size:
9 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Not everyone can point to a moment, the exact time and place, when a lifelong passion began. I can.

It was 1960, twelve days before the presidential election. John F. Kennedy, locked in a dead even race with Richard Nixon, was barnstorming the neighborhoods of New York City. And on the afternoon of October 27, he came to mine.

Stuyvesant Town, a forest of redbrick high-rises on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was built after World War II to house the flood of returning GIs and their families. Now, in the final, frantic days of his campaign, Kennedy had come there to summon a new generation of leadership.

I was, no doubt, a little newer than he had in mind. I was five.
An inspiring woman named Jessie Berry, who all but raised me while my mother was at work, took me to see JFK that day. Jessie, an African American, had come to New York from South Carolina as a young woman during the Great Migration. She had spent her days taking care of other people’s kids, scraping together what she could to help support her own two daughters. Yet she was determined that the future be better, if not for her, then for her children and her grandchildren.

Maybe that’s why she took me to see this promising young leader, a Catholic, whose election would break down a historic barrier. Maybe she saw in him hope for the future. (Looking back, I see that she might also have viewed the outing as a way to occupy her maddeningly hyperactive little charge.)

So when Jessie heard that Kennedy was coming to Stuyvesant Town, and would be just two blocks from my family’s apartment at 622 East Twentieth Street, she took me by the hand and we headed to the rally. There, she sat me on top of a mailbox to give me a better view. From that perch, I watched in awe as Twentieth Street (at that section, a wide boulevard) filled up with people  instead of the usual, ceaseless parade of cars. Near the front of the crowd, close enough to shake hands with the candidate, I spotted my sister, Joan, and her friends heading home from the junior high across First Avenue.

I wasn’t the only young kid in the crowd. Stuyvesant Town and the adjoining Peter Cooper Village were built and designed for young families, with a network of playgrounds on greened, tree-lined campuses. So when JFK came, many mothers turned out, babies in tow, eager to catch a glimpse of the dashing young senator. It was, as the advance people who plan such rallies say, a built-in audience.

They listened in rapt attention as he delivered his call to action.
It was just fifteen years after the end of World War II. Every adult there had endured that ordeal and, before it, the Great Depression. Now a Cold War hovered over their everyday lives, carrying with it the threat of nuclear annihilation. They had played a role in saving the nation, and were accustomed to sacrifice, not the pain-free succor that would become the coin of the realm of future political campaigns.

So Kennedy, himself a war hero, didn’t come bearing lavish promises. In a harbinger of the inaugural address he would deliver three months later, he came with a challenge.

“I don’t run on the presidential program of saying that if I am elected, life will be easy,” Kennedy declared, his voice booming off the surrounding highrise buildings. “I think to be a citizen of the United States in the 1960s is a hazardous occupation. But it is also one that offers challenge and hope, and I believe the choice lies with you on November 8.”

“Whether I am the candidate for the presidency, or president, or stay in the Senate, I regard our obligation not to please you but to serve you, and in my judgment, in 1960, a candidate for the presidency should be willing to give the truth to the people, and the truth is that what we are now doing is not good enough.”

I was too young to understand the full meaning of his speech or the magnitude of the moment. I recovered his words only years later, from one of those online archives no one back then could have imagined. I might not have understood exactly why the crowd cheered when it did, or that Kennedy was desperately seeking votes, locked in what would be one of the closest presidential contests ever. Yet to this five-year-old, the scene was pure magic, electric and important. Though I couldn’t grasp the nuances, I somehow absorbed the larger message: we are the masters of our future, and politics is the means by which we shape it. From that moment on, I was hooked. I wanted to be a part of the action.

Fifty-two years later, on November 5, 2012, I stood at the foot of the stage at another huge, outdoor rally, on the eve of another presidential election. It was 10:00 p.m. in Des Moines. A crowd of twenty thousand stretched from the podium on Locust Street four blocks east toward the glistening gold dome of the Iowa state capitol. They waited for hours, on that chilly November night, to watch President Barack Obama deliver the final speech at the final campaign stop of his political career—and mine.

For Team Obama, it was a homecoming. Four years earlier, Iowans had breathed life into his audacious candidacy for president. Obama had virtually taken up residence there, spending eighty-nine days in the state during the runup to Iowa’s critical, first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, as he made his case for change. Along the way, he developed strong bonds with the folks he met in countless living rooms, diners, and union halls across the state.

While the pundits and political insiders in Washington were smugly writing him off as a political shooting star, Obama placed his bet on Iowa and the army of idealistic young people who descended upon the state, hell-bent on changing the course of history. And without Iowa’s embrace, his candidacy almost certainly would have died a quick, snowy death. 

Iowa was the beginning of everything. Now, steeled by a thousand battles, Obama had returned there to plead his case, seeking the chance to finish what he had started. He had taken bold and controversial steps to revive a wounded economy, but the work of redeeming an embattled middle class was far from done. He had ended our war in Iraq and, having brought Osama bin Laden and many of Al Qaeda’s leaders to justice, was on the path to ending another war in Afghanistan. Yet it would take a continued commitment to bring those troops home, and the world would only become more complex and challenging. After a lengthy and bruising fight to pass historic health care reform, it would take his next term to implement and undergird it against continuing opposition efforts at subversion and repeal. He felt an urgency to deal with the great, unresolved problems of climate change and immigration reform. And maybe, just maybe, a second, resounding victory would pave the way for more comity and cooperation in Washington, which was the great, unfulfilled promise of his presidency.

A year earlier, following a devastating standoff with Congress over the nation’s debt limit, Obama’s standing with the public had hit a new low. Some polls showed his approval ratings sinking perilously below 40 percent. Trial heats with Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, showed the president running well below the majority he would need to win. Nate Silver, the whiz kid political handicapper who later would win plaudits for accurately calling the outcome of the election, had written a provocative and, for our team, thoroughly depressing magazine piece for the New York Times with a pointed headline: “Is Obama Toast?”

And while Obama remained publicly defiant back then, he was privately resigned to the prospect of defeat. “I’m realistic about this. We have an uphill fight,” he said, during one of our conversations in the dark days of 2011. “Michelle and I have talked about it—about where we would live if we lose. The girls are settled here now, so we really need to think about that.”

But whatever doubts Obama harbored were matched by a preternatural sense of competitiveness. This man hated to lose a game of H-O-R-S-E, much less an election that would define his presidency. So he fought his way back, knowing what defeat would mean for his programs, his legacy, and for the millions of young black Americans for whom his election had opened new vistas. And he believed the stakes for the country were large. Now, seven hours before the first polling places opened out east, he stood inside a security tent in Des Moines, waiting to be introduced to the rapturous crowd and shuffling from foot to foot like an athlete champing at the bit to get into the game. Michelle Obama, who had been crisscrossing the nation on her own, had joined up with her husband for the final stop and was making the introductory remarks onstage.

It had been remarkable to watch Michelle’s evolution, from reluctant conscript in 2007 to a buoyant and beloved campaigner five years later. Thrown out on the campaign trail without adequate staffing or preparation in 2007, she quickly became fodder for the right-wing noise machine, which seized on every opportunity to cast her as the angry, militant black woman behind the affable candidate. Michelle, an accomplished lawyer who had given up her career to make her husband’s dream possible, never expected to become fodder for his opposition. She was stung by the nasty characterizations and skittish about putting herself out there for more abuse.

But over the years, she had made peace, if sometimes an uneasy one, with her role as a public figure, using her platform to promote child nutrition and fitness, the welfare of military families, and other vital causes about which she felt deeply. She had become an extraordinarily evocative speaker as well as a charming and witty guest on late-night talk shows. Still, if the First Lady was willing to put herself out there, she was adamant that her splendid daughters, Malia and Sasha, be shielded from the public stage.

Whenever there was a potential scheduling conflict between her public role and her parental obligations, everyone in the White House knew which priority would win. Anyone brave (or dumb) enough to question that rule invariably emerged with scorched ears.

Buoyed by a deep and abiding belief in her husband, Michelle had become his most effective surrogate and, privately, his fiercest defender. Though she had little direct contact with the White House staff, word would spread quickly if Michelle felt the president had been let down. She could be tough, even on his supporters, sharing her frustration over the frequent friendly fire from the Left that always seems unhappy with any compromise. “I’m tired of all the complaining,” she told a small fund-raising luncheon in New York City a few weeks before the election, upbraiding a group of women who had paid twenty thousand dollars a plate for the privilege. “My husband has worked his heart out to get a lot of things done for this country, up against a bunch of folks on the other side who will do anything to get in the way. So just stop it! He needs your help, not your complaints!”

But now the election was just hours away, and Michelle warmed up the Des Moines crowd with one last impassioned plea for support.

“While we have come so far, we know that there is so much more to do. And what we really, truly know is that we cannot turn back now. We need to keep moving this country forward,” she said. “So that means that we need to re-elect the man who has been fighting for us every single day—my husband, the love of my life, the President of the United States . . . Barack Obama!”

On cue, Obama burst out of the tent and sprinted up a set of stairs onto the makeshift stage and into a warm embrace with his wife.

We tend to idealize political families, but the Obamas deserve any admiration they get. As they stood there together and waved to the crowd, at this last rally of their last campaign, they both understood the many sacrifices that Michelle and the family had endured to make Obama’s career possible.

For twelve years as a state legislator, U.S. senator, and presidential candidate, Obama had spent much of his time away from home. Though he was a doting father who pined for his kids when he was on the road, most of the responsibility for raising them fell to Michelle. Their years in the White House, living above his office, were the first in which Barack could regularly and reliably share dinner with the family and spend time with his girls. Yet the presidency also placed extraordinary constraints on their lives.

Maybe it was that knowledge, or Michelle’s proud words, or the sight of so many old Iowa friends at the end of this long gauntlet, but the normally unflappable president was quickly moved to tears.

“Right behind these bleachers is the building that was home to our Iowa headquarters in 2008,” he said, pointing to a rambling storefront that was, five years earlier, our littered, frenzied nerve center. (Today it’s the pristine headquarters of a New Age church.)

“This was where some of the first young people who joined our campaign set up shop, willing to work for little pay and less sleep because they believed that people who love their country can change it.”

“And when the cynics said we couldn’t, you said ‘Yes, we can!’ ”
The crowd picked up the chant. “Yes, we can!”

“You said, ‘Yes, we can!’—and we did. Against all odds, we did! We didn’t know what challenges would come when we began this journey. We didn’t know how deep the crisis would turn out. But we knew we would get through those challenges the same way this nation always has—with that determined, unconquerable American spirit that says no matter how bad the
storm gets, no matter how tough times are, we’re all in this together. We rise or fall as one nation and as one people.”

“Yes We Can.” It was the tag line I had written for the first TV ad of our first, long-shot campaign together just eight years earlier, when Obama, a largely unknown and seriously underfunded state legislator, set out to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. And it became our mantra when, in 2007, he enlisted millions of Americans to the cause of change.

As Obama spoke almost wistfully about those heady, hopeful days of 2008, they seemed like a distant dream. He had first come to Iowa as an apostle of change. Now it was impossible to ignore how much the intervening years had changed him. His faced lined and his hair flecked with gray, Obama had been tested through four of among the most challenging years any American president has faced, and they had taken their toll. He had major accomplishments to his credit, achievements that would help people and advance the nation.

In his first two years in office, Obama had passed more substantive legislation than any president since Lyndon Johnson. But when, in 2010, he lost the gaudy Democratic majorities he had helped sweep in, progress was hard to find. Washington was more bitterly divided and gridlocked than ever. And, now faced with an implacable Republican opposition in control of the House and numerous enough to tie up the Senate, Obama himself had taken on a more partisan edge. The White House operator called me a few weeks before the election and asked if I was available for the president. When Obama got on the line, I asked him if anyone ever said, “No, I’m not available for the president.” He laughed. “Only John Boehner,” he said. The president had once viewed Boehner as a prospective partner. “He reminds me of a lot of the guys I used to serve with in Springfield,” Obama said, recalling his days as a state senator, when he worked easily across party lines. But that proved to be wishful thinking; the two never found a groove. Boehner would be hemmed in by the Tea Party contingent (who helped propel him to the Speakership in 2011), antigovernment absolutists for whom compromise was tantamount to treason. And Obama, burned too many times, grew increasingly dark about the prospects for reconciliation in Washington.

By denying Obama the collaboration for which he had hoped, the Republican leaders had shrewdly forced him into a partisan corner if he wanted to get anything done. And while the slow recovery and continued economic anxieties presented a challenge to his reelection, the president’s failure to tame Washington and build bipartisan bridges was the most often-stated disappointment among the movable independent voters who had decisively tilted his way in 2008.

So 2012 had to be a different kind of campaign, more modest in its ambitions and more pointed in drawing out the deficiencies of our opponent. In 2008 we had built a once-in-a-generation movement for change. In 2012 we simply ran a very proficient political campaign.

As I stood together with my colleagues, and watched the president’s emotional closing argument in Des Moines, I was tearing up as well. I was proud of Obama and what we had accomplished. I knew this amazing band of ours would never be together again, and I was moved by the sea of people, many with kids on their shoulders, who had come out on this cool election eve. Gazing at young kids on their parents’ shoulders, I was transported back in time. I knew that those kids were me, the wide-eyed little boy on the mailbox. And I felt the same excitement I had that fateful day in Stuyvesant Town more than half a century before.

For all the division, rancor, and tawdriness in our politics, the enduring ritual of Americans coming together to choose their leader and chart their course still moved me—as noble and inspiring to a weathered political warrior as it had been to a five-year-old child in New York City. 

After a lifetime of the rough-and-tumble, I still believed: in politics as a calling; in campaigns as an opportunity to forge the future we imagine; in government as an instrument for that progress.

Throughout those years, I had seen our democracy at its best and its worst. I had represented great men and women who had made me proud of my chosen path, and some who had left me disappointed, appalled, and, worst of all, ashamed. My childhood idealism was more measured and mature, shaped by the realization that even great leaders are human and, therefore, imperfect. I had lived the life I imagined as a little boy. Now this period of it was over.

For just as the president had run his last race, I had run my own. Our decade-long partnership was an impossible act to follow. He was an incomparable client—not perfect by a long shot; but brilliant and honorable and motivated by the best intentions; a good friend and a fellow idealist. I had been spoiled. The thought of starting over with someone new—and almost certainly somebody who would fall short of Obama—was unappealing.

Moreover, after more than 150 campaigns, I had to acknowledge the physical and emotional toll they had taken. Campaigns are at once exhilarating and exhausting. For the campaign “guru” (the driver of the strategy), they require the projection of utter assurance, even as you constantly wrestle with uncertainty. They dominate your life and infiltrate your mind, even when you’re sleeping (which is rare). Wisdom and experience have their place, but campaigns demand the energy and mental acuity of youth.

I had spent a good deal of my life on the campaign trail, as a newspaper reporter and strategist, and two glorious but draining years working twenty feet from the Oval Office at a time of seemingly perpetual crisis. And while I had lived my dreams, my valiant wife, Susan, and our three children had paid a high price. I was often away, even when I was home; too frequently an absentee father, leaving Susan and the family to cope with the impact of our oldest child’s debilitating, lifelong battle with epilepsy.

It was enough. So I knew even before the 2012 campaign began that it would be my last. And I relished every moment—the combat, camaraderie, and satisfaction of, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, spending myself in a worthy cause.

Now, in Des Moines, as the president made his final, fervent appeal, I thought about the many colorful characters, famous and obscure, I had covered as a reporter and conspired with (and against) as a political operative for nearly four decades.

And I thought about Jessie Berry, the wonderful woman, now long gone, who looked after me as a child and took me to see John F. Kennedy that fateful October day. What would she have thought if she knew that the little boy she put on the mailbox to catch a glimpse of the next president would one day work twenty feet from the Oval Office? Twenty feet from the Oval Office where a black man sat as president of the United States.

In 1960, in South Carolina, where Jessie was born and raised, the Negro’s right to vote was still being contested by literacy tests and white-robed mobs. This was the withering reality from which she fled.

How would she have felt if she had stood with me now, watching President Barack Obama make his case for reelection?

The half century between the campaign rallies that bracket my life has been one of revolutionary change—changes in our society; changes in our politics and our campaigns, the way they are waged and the way they are covered; changes both in government and in public attitudes toward it, as the boundless faith of the postwar years has often surrendered to the cynicism and gridlock endemic to our politics today.

I’ve seen those changes from many vantage points—as a youthful campaigner in New York City in the tumultuous 1960s; as a Chicago newspaperman in the 1970s and ’80s, chronicling the waning days of America’s last great urban political machine and the emergence of a black independent political movement that laid the foundation for Barack Obama’s rise; as a political strategist for nearly three decades, working on campaigns rife with drama and change; and as a top aide to a trailblazing president facing epic challenges and impossible expectations. This book is the story of that journey, from my seat on the mailbox in more innocent times to the inner sanctums of historic campaigns and the White House.

What People are Saying About This

Deval Patrick
In telling the vivid tales of his own forty years behind the curtain of modern politics, Axelrod reminds us that elections matter to those who don't engage as well as those who do, effectively challenging us all to get involved. --Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts
George Stephanopoulos
David Axelrod was present at the creation of President Obama's political career. He reflects on their improbable journey with the faithfulness of a reporter, the ferocity of a political operative, and the passion of a true believer. A riveting read. --George Stephanopoulos, Chief Anchor, ABC News
Mike Murphy
David Axelrod has written a remarkable book, a deeply honest and unflinching memoir of his journey from cub journalist to political adviser to the President of the United States. From the boisterous wards of Chicago politics to the Oval Office, Believer takes you inside the political warrior's life, with its larger-than-life personalities, exhilarating victories, and gut-wrenching defeats. For Axelrod, the goal is victory, but the enemy is cynicism. Anybody, Democrat or Republican, who loves politics should read this book. --Mike Murphy, Republican strategist
Doris Kearns Goodwin
Beautifully written with warmth, humor, and remarkable self-awareness, Believer is one of the finest political memoirs I have ever read. Through one memorable anecdote after another, Axelrod tells a revealing and moving story of his long and honorable career in public life. This is a thoroughly terrific book. --Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of The Bully Pulpit and Team of Rivals
From the Publisher
Praise for David Axelrod's Believer

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, author of The Bully Pulpit and Team of Rivals
“Beautifully written with warmth, humor, and remarkable self-awareness, Believer is one of the finest political memoirs I have ever read. Through one memorable anecdote after another, Axelrod tells a revealing and moving story of his long and honorable career in public life. This is a thoroughly terrific book.”

DEVAL PATRICK, governor of Massachusetts
“In telling the vivid tales of his own forty years behind the curtain of modern politics, Axelrod reminds us that elections matter to those who don’t engage as well as those who do, effectively challenging us all to get involved.”

MIKE MURPHY, Republican strategist
“David Axelrod has written a remarkable book, a deeply honest and unflinching memoir of his journey from cub journalist to political adviser to the President of the United States. From the boisterous wards of Chicago politics to the Oval Office, Believer takes you inside the political warrior’s life, with its larger-than-life personalities, exhilarating victories, and gut-wrenching defeats. For Axelrod, the goal is victory, but the enemy is cynicism. Anybody, Democrat or Republican, who loves politics should read this book.”

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, chief anchor of ABC News
“David Axelrod was present at the creation of President Obama’s political career. He reflects on their improbable journey with the faithfulness of a reporter, the ferocity of a political operative, and the passion of a true believer. A riveting read.”

Meet the Author

DAVID AXELROD spent eight years as a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Tribune. As a political consultant, Axelrod has managed strategy for more than 150 local, state, and national campaigns. Axelrod most recently served as senior strategist to President Obama’s successful reelection campaign. He served in that same role in then-Senator Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, before going on to serve in the White House as senior adviser to the president. After the 2012 campaign, Axelrod founded the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago.

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Believer: My Forty Years in Politics 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the few political books I've read that's not weaselly. Excellent writing (Axelrod was a journalist before he was a political functionary) and great insight into how politics works...not just the Obama campaign but other lesser campaigns that he's worked on. Its weakness, if it can be called that, is that he has few explosive revelations (though there are a few) that can be publicized to bulk up sales. Its strength is in telling the truth of what he saw and he saw a lot. If you want smarm, look elsewhere. If you want to understand politics, look here. Excellent book written by a real writer who comes across as smart and decent.
senated More than 1 year ago
Five stars if you are a Chicagoan, four if not.  A great political story that demonstrates the value of people surrounding  the candidate or officeholder. As a Chicagoan I knew all the characters,  but any political junkie will be fascinated by the mechanizations of the  Obama campaigns and presidency and the role the author had in each.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
David Axelrod's book held my interest from beginning to end. He is admirable in his loyality to family and friends and especially to his clients, including Obama. His work ethic is remarkable, together with his obvious passion for politics. He is definitely the man to have on your team as he pulls no punches and reaches for success - nothing else is acceptable! An impressive man in the often shady world of today's politics.Refreshing and uplifting to experience his complete honesty.
Pitcairn More than 1 year ago
Mr. Axelrod wrote an excellent and revealing book about politics. I highly recommend this book for any young person who is contemplating a life in politics. Mr. Axelrod was very blunt at times about some of the politicians that he served as a consultant. I always knew that politics can be rough and it is the strongest who survive. It is interesting how men like David Axelrod become so involved in politics. Is it the power or is it that they really believe? With David Axelrod, I truly feel that he is a believer. Read the book in a week. This book should be on a book list for all students interested in studying political science and history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a fine memoir by such a fine writer. Loved every minute reading Axelrod's experiences behind the scenes of a presidential campaign and how grinding it can be on the senior staff and his/her family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I lived in Chicago for awhile in the 60's so really enjoyed his stories of Chicago/Illinois politics. As they used to say on Election Day, "vote EARLY and vote OFTEN"! Found his memories of the Obama campaign riveting and cried again upon his victory. Brought back so many joyful emotions of that day. Loved discovering the inside story, characterization of the politicians and players, and a little juicy gossip. Axelrod is indeed a communicator. Found him easy to read and loved his dry sense of humor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very readable and well written. It became clear Axelrod had a substantial impact on what was reported as his version is often the version we know if you followed the Obama administration. Get into the mind of a political operative. .
RRMAG More than 1 year ago
David Axelrod is a gifted author. I found this book very interesting. David provides great insight into the political process. 
Anonymous 8 months ago
Excellent memoir for any person who considers themselves a political junkie or fan of the Obama administration. Axelrod strings together a great story from beginning to end on how he found himself immersed in Chicago politics from a young age to working on the Obama campaign and later in the white house. He weaves together great and sincere personal stories and memories from his time as an operative on the campaign and I'd be remiss if I didn't admit I teared on several occasions reading his memoir. As a young adult interested in getting into politics myself, this was excellent read -- one of the best accounts I've read about Obama and his successful campaign for president.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Book-touched More than 1 year ago
"Believer" by David Axelrod is a refreshingly honest, informative and keenly insightful book. Political junkies and readers of all stripes will delight in this behind the scenes glimpse of the 2008 and 2012 political campaigns, the people involved, the Whitehouse and the Presidency. It is a well written, balanced, fully drawn view of the real people behind the political headlines their strengths, foibles, motivations as well as a heartbreaking and honest look at the author himself. David's astute analysis of Washington today educates the reader, it is simply one of the best I've read to date. If you are looking for a "tell all", "gotcha", "sensationalized", "gossipy" book, this is not for you. But...if you want to be well informed about the inner workings of politics and campaigning, this is the book for you. I highly recommend ii!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Axelrod is a lifelong communist whose Stalinist tactics fit nicely with Chicago thug politics Obama's Beria
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr. Axelrod's formal and informal expressions in his various pronouncements belie an amorality, not morality nor immorality. He seems quite comfortable with that. I am not comfortable with that, not at all. I find it sad, and disgusting. He, however, helps deliver to America what the American masses, and a chunk of the world populace, want and accept. "Sic transit gloria mundi."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Typical liberal politician, who's aim appears to be the destruction of our nation. He and Obama shine while discussing their favorite topics; themselves. This book could be titled " Narcisistic Personality Disorder and Delusion". Of course the author is too arrogant, like most liberals, to admit it.