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Obama’s “Brain”

A brief sojurn into grubby electoral politics: 

Recall from years ago, the enormous amount of press received by GOP strategist Karl Rove as George W. Bush’s political “Brain” ? A similar role with Barack Obama is played by Illinois Democratic political consultant David Axelrod, except that Axelrod keeps a far lower profile than Rove did and Axelrod has inifinitely better relationships with the working press, notably with the nominally Republican Chicago Tribune where Axelrod was formerly a political reporter and columnist.  Axelrod is also tightly connected to Chicago’s all-powerful Democratic Party boss, Mayor Richard M. Daley, another longtime Axelrod client; and to Exelon/Com. Ed. , the politically powerful Illinois utility that contracts with Axelrod’s public relations firm and whose employees have been among the largest financial donors in Illinois to the Obama campaign.

What kind of campaign can we expect from Axelrod in the general election? Overtly positive themes and public posturing  complemented by covertly delievered and mercilessly negative “stiletto” attacks against key people around John McCain that are not directly traceable to Axelrod. The model for this strategy is the previous Obama senatorial campaign in Illinois, where Obama’s two most formidible, centimillionaire, rivals, Democrat Blair Hull and Republican Jack Ryan were personally destroyed in the primaries when salacious details from their sealed divorce records were mysteriously leaked to the media, which then pressured for their full release, notably in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. Thus, ultimately permitting Obama to run against an out-of-state, clown candidate, religious conservative firebrand Alan Keyes, in the general election.

 Negative political advertising is reliably effective, something known since the days of Murray Chotiner running Richard Nixon’s California races, but the information age imposes “blowback” costs when it is used too openly by a candidate. Axelrod’s long courtship of the media will permit similar “fingerprint free” attacks against the GOP to work unless McCain’s campaign is smart enough to start doing social network analysis of key media people crossreferenced with Obama Campaign functionaries and Axelrod associates.

It’s also noteworthy of how little escapes Axelrod’s attention. The conservative intellectual and writer, Dr. Stanley Kurtz, has been digging into the UIC archives on Senator Obama’s extensive political relationship with Dr. William Ayers, the 60’s radical and unrepentant ex-Weatherman terrorist, now a professor of Education at UIC where he is a leading advocate of politicizing teacher certification programs along Leftist lines (Ayers is the son of the late, prominent Chicago business leader, Thomas Ayers, former chairman/CEO of Commonwealth Edison and board member at he Chicago Tribune). Kurtz was invited to be a guest last night on Dr. Milt Rosenberg’s highbrow Extension720 WGN-AM radio show and discuss his research and Rosenberg’s switchboard and email system was instantly flooded and essentially shut down by an orchestrated wave of Obama supporters ( here is the Obama Campaign action alert).  While something of a local legend, Rosenberg’s radio show is, in the national media scheme of things, a fairly obscure program. Sort of a conservative NPR, except a lot smarter and writ small.

I would expect the ante be upped against Obama critics to include nuisance suits and worse  if the fall campaign tightens.


It appears that the Obama-Ayers-Annenberg story, which I expect will soon feature the infamous pic of Ayers trampling a U.S. flag in an alley, is making it on to the MSM radar. Michael Barone does a superb job as political anthropologist here, explaining the ” Chicago Way” to Americans in more normal communities:

Obama Needs to Explain His Ties to William Ayers

….Ayers was one of the original grantees of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school reform organization in the 1990s, and was cochairman of the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, one the two operational arms of the CAC. Obama, then not yet a state senator, became chairman of the CAC in 1995. Later in that year, the first organizing meeting for Obama’s state Senate campaign was held in Ayers’s apartment. Ayers later wrote a memoir, and an article about him appeared in the New York Times on Sept. 11, 2001. “I don’t regret setting bombs,” Ayers is quoted as saying. “I feel we didn’t do enough.”

Ayers was a terrorist in the late 1960s and 1970s whose radical group set bombs at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.

You might wonder what Obama was doing working with a character like this. And you might wonder how an unrepentant terrorist got a huge grant and cooperation from the Chicago public school system. You might wonder-if you don’t know Chicago. For this is a city with a civic culture in which politicians, in the words of a story often told by former congressman, federal judge, and Clinton White House counsel Abner Mikva, “don’t want nobody nobody sent.” That’s what Mikva remembers being told when he went to a Democratic ward headquarters to volunteer for Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, and it rings true. And it’s a civic culture in which there’s nobody better to send you than your parents.

Read the rest here.

22 Responses to “Obama’s “Brain””

  1. Adrian Says:

    What’s your source on Axelrod being behind the leaking of Ryan’s divorce records?  You didn’t give a link and I hadn’t heard any accusations of that before and I had thought Ryan’s GOP primary opponent was the one to call for their release.

  2. zen Says:

    Hi Adrian,
    There is no link to a reporter admitting that Axelrod personally or the campaigns he has run were the confidential source of these leaks to the Trib and the local ABC affiliate ( possibly multiple sources were involved) though wikipedia cites the Obama campaign as emailing reporters to keep pushing the story once it had been originally aired.
    Remarkably lucky string of events for Obama though, if Axelrod wasn’t involved, and if the pattern continues in the presidential election, I doubt we’ll have reporters outing their sources then either.

  3. Lexington Green Says:

    The "stilleto" attacks were incredibly effective. 

    I wonder what Team Obama has in store for McCain?  Fortunately, McCain has been around for a long time and probably fully vetted at this point.

    It has been amazing to see how fawning the Trib has been to Sen. Obama.  An above-the-fold story across 2/3 of the page about Michelle Obama going clothes shopping for the convention, more or less the way you would cover the doings of a crowned monarch’s wife.  I detest the Trib anyway, but the strewn-rose-petals-to-the-coronation approach to Obama’s campaign gives new resonance to the nouns "toady" and "lickspittle". 

  4. Lexington Green Says:

    <a href="http://i240.photobucket.com/albums/ff79/freebirdny/PICS/features_ayers1-1.jpg"&gt;…the infamous pic of Ayers trampling a U.S. flag in an alley…</a>.

  5. zen Says:

    "It has been amazing to see how fawning the Trib has been to Sen. Obama."

    It is amazing but it started at the inception of Obama’s run for the nomination to be Senate candidate when no one outside of his State senate district had any idea of who he was.  Axelrod is a brilliant political operator and strategist – best we have seen since the heyday of Roger Ailes.

  6. Lexington Green Says:

    "Axelrod is a brilliant political operator and strategist."

    The (political) organisms which survived and ate their way to the top in the Chicago Shark Tank are now spreading out into the larger ecosystem. 
    I bet the guy has a million war stories — which he will never, ever tell!  That is also a Chicago tradition.  No memoirs, no nothing.  It all gets buried with you. 

  7. Lexington Green Says:

    The coding doesn’t work here.  I forgot.
    Here it is:

  8. zen Says:

    No it doesn’t get told. That’s one reason Royko was so hated for writing Boss – he put some of those stories out there when Daley sr. ( perhaps we should use royal nomenclature and just go with Daley I.) was at the height of his power.
    Boston’s Daley figure, James Michael Curley, might have written The Last Hurrah but you do not see that here – not just the Daleys but the Dunnes, Baulers, Keanes, Vrdolyaks, Kelleys etc. keep quiet too.

  9. Adrian Says:

    "Remarkably lucky string of events for Obama though"

    For anyone running against Ryan, which included other people as well.  Lucky as well for the reporters who got the scoop.  It’s just interesting that there’s a total lack of evidence pointing towards Axelrod and it’s not even clear how Axelrod would get the documents in question before reporters anyway, yet you’re convinced Axelrod is pulling the strings.

    Also as you’re trying to paint Axelrod as a Karl Rove figure it’s important to remember a crucial distinction.  Rove’s attacks were based on lies.  Even if Axelrod did somehow manage to get hold of sealed divorce records and then leaked them to the press, his crime is of going out of bounds, something pretty routine in politics.

  10. zen Says:

    Adrian, it wasn’t just Jack Ryan but Blair Hull as well. Now Hull was an inept candidate but what he and Ryan had in common was an ability to spend the relatively unknown Obama into oblivion and the Trib, where Axelrod’s connections are excellent, was a major mover here. If I recall correctly, the Trib editorial board were also blasting away non-stop at the extremely wealthy, hard-right, Jim Oberweiss who might have stepped up to replace Ryan as the GOP standard bearer.
    Incidentally, I expect that most political consultants, Left or Right, would use whatever dirt fell into their hands ( they get a lot of unsolicited info – funny thing about guys who run for office – a lot of them are S.O.B.’s and some of the ppl who they have stepped on in the past have long memories). It’s simply my opinion that Axelrod is probably a lot smoother and more selective in going negative than somebody like Bob Shrum or Karl Rove who have a record of throwing everything just to see what might stick. Republicans would do well to game out exactly who Axelrods media favorites are well before somebody gets splashed across a front page

  11. Fabius Maximus Says:

    More on the attempts to silence the WGN show, an excerpt from  The Instapundit:
    . . .
    . . ..
    ANOTHER UPDATE: Going after a Chicago radio station for hosting a broadcast on the subject. As I say, fanning the flames.. . . .
    MORE: Still more on The Obama Campaign vs. WGN radio. Two items from Lindgren are worth breaking out here, too: "If Obama or his campaign had ever denounced Ayers with the fervor that his campaign has now used in denouncing Kurtz, Obama wouldn’t be having trouble on his connection to Ayers. ". ..  .
    Also, "The Obama campaign response is so unusual (the wording used against a member of the press and their contacting TV advertisers on stations running the TV ad) that I wonder if they have polled the issue and they discovered that voters give this whole issue a lot more credence than I think it merits." Either that or they’re trying to deliver a brush-back against future attacks or scandals. But I’d guess the former.. . ..
    MORE: Reader George Hancock sends a link to the WGN show’s audio. (Bumped).

  12. Shlok Says:

    Very nice post Zen. He’s going to win.

  13. zen Says:

    Thanks FM !
    Hi Shlok,
    Thanks! Obama may. Tonight is his night. OTOH if this is a "no-bounce" convention that that does not result in a hard and enduring lead in the 8-10 % range even after the GOP convention then I think it will go down to the wire – barring one candidate doing something quite stupid and throwing the race away. McCain has handicaps but he’s not out of the race, like say Dole in 1996, Mondale in 1984 or McGovern in 1972 – in fact he’s not polling badly on issues

  14. Eddie Says:

    I certainly don’t doubt Axelrod’s Chicago pedigree (as Lexington makes plainly clear what that means, which I am inclined to agree with) but what I find endlessly fascinating that you don’t discuss is the incredibly effective under the radar smear campaign waged against Obama since his candidacy began.
    I work with lifelong Democrats who hate the man b/c they are convinced via their e-mail contacts and social networks he is a Muslim, an Arab and that he hates America (no hand on the heart ever (those pics are photoshopped!), never wears a flag pin (photoshopped), disrespected troops in Afghanistan by not spending any time with them at all… those b-ball photos and videos.. you guessed it, photoshopped!, etc). 
    These have not happened in a McCain commerical or even a Clinton one.  Whoever started these e-mails and the rumors is the real genius, b/c they are likely going to cost Obama the election.

    When McCain is in the White House in January, he should buy those people some drinks.

  15. Seerov Says:

    Thank you for making us aware of that 720 radio show.  I’ve often wondered why the right didn’t have an NPR type of operation?  I really enjoy pod-casts, and if you’re aware of any other political, military, or academic pod-casts, I would appreciate it if you could point some out?


  16. James F Says:

    Obama is going to lose.  As James Carville says, he’s got no credible message and he’s got nowhere to go in his campaign.  You can only say "change" so many times if you aren’t able to actually use issues to show how you would change anything.  Right across the board his credibility is getting shredded on issues – and that matters because you can’t fight something with nothing.  Ordinary people are much less swayed by all the glamour than political reporters who change their minds about stuff all the time. 

    Also, look at the other signs: (a) his campaign spokespeople are starting to talk about "energising people" to vote – normally a sign that they aren’t connecting with swwing voters; (b) they’re constantly responding to the negative stuff put out by McCain and getting dragged off their message; (c) they’re moaning that McCain and the 3rd party groups are playing too rough, like they’re entitled to victory.

    McCain’s campaign is brilliant.  He’s obviously not a great candidate but his campaign is on fire.  The negative stuff – unlike the way lefties normally campaign – is hard-hitting without looking unpleasant or offensive.  And it’s classic Boyd in action – look at the way McCain’s campaign have got into the Obama campaign’s brain (you could see if unfold yesterday afternoon).  Obama’s team seem frightened by what they think McCain will do – they got scared about the look of the "temple", they got scared about McCain releasing his VP pick, they’re clearly worried about the celebrity stuff.  


  17. joey Says:

    There is no way a Black, Muslim/Communist/terrorist sympathizer who hates America is going to win.
    The proof is in the innuendo and the guilt by association.

  18. Jeremy Young Says:

    Only thing I’ll say is that I do seem to recall that Dan Hynes (Obama’s other main primary rival) fessed up to leaking the Hull stuff.  But as I look around now, I can’t seem to find confirmation of that.

  19. Jeremy Young Says:

    Oh, I guess I do have one thing more to say.  I’m not entirely certain that it would have been in Obama’s best interest to leak the Ryan stuff. Obama was already beating Ryan handily before that information came to light; after Ryan dropped out, Obama almost had to face Mike Ditka, who was polling 44% before he even entered the race. If Axelrod did leak that information, and I doubt he did, it was a pretty dumb move on his part.

  20. zen Says:

    Hi Jeremy,
    In Chicago you’re only dumb if you get caught. "Coach" would be an instant favorite here for Senator, the governorship – basically any office except the mayor  🙂
    On a serious note, Hynes is from a powerful Daley machine family. If Daley said "jump" and take the blame for the leak, Hynes would. Or maybe he really did leak it on his own. Or maybe he leaked it with Daley’s knowledge as the Mayor’s former chief of Staff was a Hynes adviser; if so, Axelrod would have been in the know. Unless you are an insider or a Federal wiretap leads to conversations being aired in Court ( which happens regularly) it’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on

  21. LFC Says:

    If one reads far enough down in the Barone piece, one finds a sentence that says (paraphrasing closely) that one reason Chicago voters have accepted the politics of nepotism is that many of its products have been quite competent. I’d add that Bill Ayers is not on the ballot in this election; I’ve been reading  for months about Obama’s ties with this "unrepentant terrorist" and I have yet to see much indication  that the issue is  having any political effect.

  22. Obama’s Chicago Way « Mr. Smith Goes Conservative Blogging Says:

    […] in “pushing the story.” (See this article — especially reference 7 — also here and here.) Obama then went on to win over weak opposition in the general election and become the […]

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