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Grant Slater/MEDILL

David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, takes to the stage Thursday night at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago.

On visit home, Axelrod takes a look back

by Grant Slater
Nov 03, 2009


David Axelrod bounded up the steps before a friendly crowd to report back on his first nine months on assignment in Washington.

"One thing's for sure," the president’s adviser said on the most recent of his rare visits to Chicago: "It's good to be back home."

Axelrod then proceeded to highlight the challenges facing the still-nascent administration of his boss, President Barack Obama, while outlining this year's accomplishments for donors to the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, a legal aid foundation based in Chicago.

"We had no illusions when Sen. Obama became President-elect Obama that we were walking into a difficult situation: two wars, debt as far as the eye can see," Axelrod said. "We knew the economy was struggling."

Several administration officials and campaign workers reunited for a weekend screening of a new documentary on the presidential campaign scheduled to premiere at 8 p.m. Tuesday night on HBO. The airing coincides with the year anniversary of Obama's election.

Axelrod touted one of the few positive economic indicators of recent months, a 3-percent bump in growth of the nation's gross domestic product. But that is not the growth the administration is looking for, Axelrod said.

"If people can't find decent jobs, if they can't support their families, if their wages are falling,” Axelrod said, “then our economy hasn't recovered."

The president's senior adviser focused on insurance reform and not a government-run public option as he laid out what the administration hopes to gain in its health care push.

"We want to bring the overall cost of health care down," Axelrod said.

Axelrod figures prominently in the documentary, by first-time documentarians Amy Rice and Alicia Sams.

Rice and Sams began following Obama shortly after his election to the U.S. Senate. By being the first to show up with cameras, they were able to start collecting footage early in the campaign process. Officials allowed them to record many unguarded moments.

As the fervor built around the Obama campaign last year, Rice said the machinations of the staff remained calm and workmanlike. Rice said that she feels that the administration, after one year in office, has governed in much the same way it campaigned.

"They all were just very calm. They have a plan, and it doesn't coincide with the 24-hour news cycle," Rice said. "If I had to guess, I would say it's much the same inside the White House right now."

Rice said her film will be viewed differently as every day of the Obama administration passes and new historical perspective is layered on the early days of the effort.

"I would love ideally to fast forward to 20 years from now when he's out of office," Rice said. "That's when we'll see what this all means."