Monday, October 22, 2012

Axelrod: out of his depth and then some

David Axelrod has an interesting personal history. Prior to becoming a professional political consultant, Axelrod was a political reporter, and by all accounts a good and successful one. As a political consultant, Axelrod has worked across the nation, from Massachusetts to Oregon. He has deep ties to former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, worked for John Edwards in 2004, along with politicos like Eliot Spitzer and Deval Patrick. He's also taught "campaign strategy" at Northwestern University.

As a campaign strategist, Axelrod definitely knows the game, knows how it's played and what it takes to win. But when Obama took office in 2008--at which point he no longer was actually in a campaign--Axelrod moved from campaign strategist to "Senior Advisor," a position that gave him input into actual policy, along with messaging. Technically, Axelrod is no longer in that position (Valerie Jarrett and David Plouffe are Obama's only Senior Advisors right now), having moved back into the role of campaign strategist. But he still speaks for the Administration. He still has the President's ear whenever he needs it.

I would guess that having the role of Senior Advisor and Presidential confidant is something that brought a great deal of satisfaction to Mr. Axelrod. It's one thing to be the guy organizing a campaign, with all the mundane tasks, repetitive activities, and daily organizing such a thing requires (no small feat, that). It's quite another to be a powerful political figure who speaks with the authority of the entire Executive Branch. It's enough to give one a swelled head, to elevate one's own sense of importance and supposed depth of knowledge.

Though Axelrod is not stupid, however, this inflated sense of self-worth betrays something: Axelrod--when it comes to policy and decision-making--doesn't know what the hell he is doing. Witness his appearance on Meet the Press this weekend:


Host David Gregory:
This [Benghazi] wouldn't be an issue, would it, if the Administration had a consistent response to what occurred there?
Axelrod's response:
There’s an investigation ongoing with the intelligence community– the FBI is on the ground. We have reported, the administration has reported, everything that we've been told, and we've shared it in real time. The fact is it’s a complicated situation, we’re thoroughly looking at what happened there, and reporting to the American people on it. 
There’s been no inconsistency, there’s merely been reports on the data and the intelligence that we've been given. And the intelligence community has been clear on this. They have been doing the best they can, giving us the intelligence they have, we've been sharing the information, and we’ll continue to do so.
Axelrod's answer to Gregory is six ways stupid. Of course the Administration's response has been inconsistent. It's gone from blaming a video on the attack (Susan Rice) to suggesting that the attack occurred alongside a protest about the video (Jay Carney) to feigning ignorance about the situation in Libya (Joe Biden) to blaming the intelligence community and the State Department for what transpired. State--in the person of Hillary Clinton--has essentially fallen on it's sword in this regard, even though it's apparent that State and other agencies knew that the situation in Libya in general and Benghazi in particular had been deteriorating in the months before the attack and knew within 24 hours--if not much, much sooner--that the attack was unrelated to protests about a stupid video, was pre-planned, and was directly linked to al Qaeda.

But aside from Axelrod's blatant attempt to rewrite reality, even more disturbing is his apparent belief that the role of the Administration--when it comes to events like this--is little more than that of a news agency, of a conduit for unverified information. As he says, the Administration "has reported everything [it's] been told" and "shared it in real time."

Axelrod--no doubt because of his background--would have us believe this is the proper function of the Presidency, to simply report on what is happening. It's not. The Executive Branch certainly needs to explain its actions to the American people and in that regard needs to offer up evidence for the "why" behind such decisions, but it also needs to verify what it decides to use as evidence, what it decides to tell the nation about current events, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs and hostile actions. Recall the heat--deserved heat--that the Bush Administration and Colin Powell received for jumping the gun on the "mobile weapons labs" supposedly discovered in Iraq after the invasion. It was a foolish moment for the Bush Administration, even more foolish for Powell himself.

What Axelrod, and by extension the President, are doing here is even more foolish. As a means of justifying their failed attempt to obfuscate the reality behind the Benghazi attack, they're claiming simple ignorance, actually arguing that they just "reported" what they were given. That's not why we pay them the big bucks. Any idiot can pass along information. The Administration is supposed to evaluate intelligence and use it as a basis for public statements and policy.

Which leaves with the same two (or three) choices we've had since the Benghazi story broke: either the Administration is peopled by ignorant fools by and large, or it's lying left and right in a vain attempt to cover up its mistakes in Libya and the Middle East. Or both.

As one of the point men on all of this, Axelrod is treating Benghazi like a story that just needs to be managed, that requires nothing from the Administration apart from simple recognition. And I fear that's because he really doesn't know any better. For all his experience, he remains little more than a campaign strategist, just as Obama remains little more than a community organizer. PR seems to be the only concern of the Administration when it comes to Benghazi and, well, everything else. We deserve better.

Cheers, all.