On October 19th, David Axelrod, the former Senior Advisor to President Obama and now head of his 2012 re-election campaign, spoke at Fordham University to a crowd of roughly 200 students in Keating 1st Auditorium at the request of the Fordham College Democrats for Fordham’s American Age Lecture Series.
Mr. Axelrod’s visit comes at a time when President Obama’s approval ratings among young voters (age 18-29) has slipped to an all-time low of 45% in a recent Gallup survey, and his prospects for re-election looking far from assured. Despite these grim statistics, Mr. Axelrod’s speech, for the most part, was not overtly partisan.
He opened his speech by singing verses from the school anthems of P.S. 40 and J.S. 104, the two NYC public schools he attended, describing how his first campaign experience was when he was only 10 years old for a local candidate who later won, then attended the University of Chicago, one of the most prominent universities in the country for the study of political science. It was while attending this university that he worked on the Senate campaign of Rep. Paul Simon (D-IL), his first major campaign activity.
His primary focus of the lecture was how he met Barack Obama and got to work for him, which is what everybody came to hear. This occurred in 1992 when Mr. Obama was already being hailed as a “mover and shaker” in progressive politics. Mr. Axelrod assisted Mr. Obama during his 1996 run for Illinois state senate, which he won, as well as helping now-disgraced ex-governor Rod Blagojevich with a Congressional campaign, who ran on a platform of “reform” (insert laughter here). Mr. Axelrod later returned to Team Obama in 2008, helping him defeat expected primary winner then-Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and then winning the White House that November.
He closed out his speech by praising President Obama’s accomplishments which he believes helped students, such as being able to stay on their parents’ health care until they are 26 and reforming loan programs, as well as how the President has successfully raised fuel efficiency standards for cars, as well as the successful raid in May that resulted in bin Laden’s death.
Mr. Axelrod also lamented how the Republicans wanted to deny President Obama any major legislative victory, which was responsible for Congress’ slow movement on many Obama policy initiatives, which conveniently ignoring how for 10 months, Senate Democrats had a 60-seat supermajority, and 59% of all House seats. I asked Mr. Axelrod about this, and whether or not it was wrong to not so much blame the GOP, but instead maybe recognize faults in President Obama’s proposals and his manner of going about passing them. Mr. Axelrod did not answer the question directly, but mentioned that Obamacare had its roots in legislation championed by Senator Bob Dole, a Republican, back in the 1990’s, and how this was an unprecedented attempt to block legislation that nobody expected, especially since the nation was “in crisis.”
When I asked some of the attendees what they thought of the speech, many said that Mr. Axelrod lacked emotion and charisma, especially compared to Republican campaign advisor Karl Rove’s lecture last April at Fordham Preparatory School, which attracted 800 attendees. This can be attributed to his natural soft-spokenness and microphone problems that weren’t his fault, but even in a room that can amplify sound relatively well, it was still difficult to hear him if one was sitting in the back half of the audience, which left quite a few people in the dark (Mr. Rove had the same microphone problems as well, but was still audible in the far back of the Prep auditorium when he spoke).
It is always a welcome treat to have a prominent figure in the American political sphere come speak at our institution like David Axelrod, even if you don’t completely agree with his vision of America, or the vision of his boss. It gives students a rare glimpse at the potential one has if they apply themselves to what they are studying and how being active is critical in today’s society. As Mr. Axelrod said in his closing statements: “Don’t be a spectator.” That, we can all agree, is an important lesson.Published in