David Axelrod had a decision to make. I watched him think it over.
The Chief Political Strategist of the President of the United States was on the elevator in the old Prudential Building overlooking beautiful Millennium Park in Chicago, coming down from the security protected floor that held the National Offices of President Obama’s re-election campaign. I got on at three. Just the two of us for maybe 4 seconds.
Axelrod was deep in thought. When the doors opened, I hung back. Watching from an angle. The publicized burger and double order of fries and a chocolate shake guy must have taken the day off, because this guy was in decent shape. He had a quiet energy. Gave off a sense of, strangely enough, curiosity.
How can a guy probably pondering how and when to go negative on Mittens, Rick or Newt be curious?
He walked over to an escalator and went down to street level under the newer Prudential Tower, hitting a dead end, and turned back as if he had no real destination at all. Perhaps out for a quick lunchtime walk.
Head on, I got another surprise. He looks up, basset hound eyes. Glancing at his face, the impression was kindness.
Kindness? That had to be wrong. This is the guy who signs off on the President’s answer to the question, “Why me? Why should I get another term?” This is the guy who is in charge of the President’s narrative. Axelrod’s job is to tell the story of a President who if he cured cancer tomorrow would be questioned as to what the research cost. A President who many know as a Kenyan, Muslim socialist, communist, banker loving, disappointment of a messiah who is personally responsible for the fact that gas prices are rising and I don’t have a job. Newt can give me 2 buck a gallon gas and a job. Can Obama do that?
This is the guy responsible for telling a story of what’s next for all of us in an age when words need no longer have meaning.
How do you pull off that trick on a lunchtime walk? With “kindness?”
That can’t be right.
Axelrod takes a left turn past the place I get coffee every morning. The crowds thicken in a rush of lunch goers streaming through the tunnels under the Aon Building. No one looks twice at Axelrod. He is so Chicago, he just blends in with everybody else. But I keep watching as he walks and see it again in his face. “Kindness.”
How do you battle a “Newt” or a Koch Brother with that?
Axelrod was just named by Chicago Magazine as the sixth most powerful man in Chicago.
On a national or world stage, Axelrod’s power quotient would still be high on anyone’s list. His access to virtually anyone is certain. Anyone would take his call.
But as he walks alone through the now packed with people underground tunnel, one can’t help but wonder if he knows how few people have access to him.
You wonder how often he stands at the edge of that constantly growing canyon between those who have power and those who do not.
To be fair, when the President is on line 2, he might not have a moment to chat with me.
And Axelrod did not build those loops of power.
But those closed door loops of power, those “inner circles” are what fuel of both the rage and despair of those who once had something to give and now do not. The vulnerable. Those in the pain of a life gone terribly wrong. Most of us.
Alone, on his lunchtime walk, Axelrod looks like one of the few who would be open to breaking through those closed loops of power. His curiosity. The kindness. Which now appears to be unmistakable.
Axelrod stops cold in front of a Jimmy Johns. It’s go time. A decision is forthcoming.
We’re about to go to the same place for lunch.
I’ll be right behind in line. Ready. I mentally rehearse. Cause I know I’ll only have about 10 seconds max.
Remember Roger, don’t tell. Ask questions.
Don’t tell. Show!
I silently run through my points. Knowing I’ll have to go with whatever 1 or 2 conversation prompts feel right at the millisecond he turns and answers me. What will I say? How about:
Mr. Axelrod sir?
---I have a way to connect people and jobs. A way to put it into action. Can we talk about that could help the President’s chances?
Or. . .
Mr. Axelrod? Would you be interested in how the arts could fuel economic development?
I’ve been told I in my writing, I give voice, give names, perhaps even a smidgen of power to those who have none themselves. See there is this old woman I’ve named Cassie. She walks by my house and the Mayor’s house every day and. . . if you read my blog on Open Salon. . . . .
Ah crap. I’m babbling. He’s from Chicago. He probably likes quick and direct. How about:
What’s the phone number of a publisher who wants a book that will sell a million copies because it connects people and jobs?
Know anybody who would pay me to write?
Or maybe “Can I tell you how we can solve the nations unemployment problem?
Nah. That’s no good.
Maybe. . .Mr. Axelrod. I can help with the jobs problem. Can we talk?
OK. That’s it. I’m ready.
David Axelrod looks hard at the Jimmy Johns. Makes his decision.
He’s skipping lunch today. He keeps walking.
Our conversation will just have to wait . . .