Joe Klein interviewed David Axelrod at the Aspen Ideas Festival yesterday. It was an outstanding session. Klein explained that he and Axelrod were friends; he did not need to explain that he, Klein, has also been an Obama supporter. But he asked--and kept pressing--pointed, difficult questions about Obama's unforceful leadership. It was a memorable proof of how a sympathetic and courteous interviewer can be a more probing and more dangerous interlocutor than a straightforward enemy.
Axelrod of course is unflappable. He sustained his note of immovable
calm and reason throughout: we take the long view, the pragmatic view;
in extremely difficult circumstances, made more difficult by an
intemperate and unreasoning opposition, we make progress where we can;
being loud is not the same thing as being effective; look at our record
of achievement (fiscal stimulus, financial reform, health-care-reform,
education reform); we will let history be the judge. But Klein kept
coming back. Obama is failing to explain himself, failing to make his
case. Where is the president on this? Where is the president on that?
His rhetorical skills are clear. Why isn't he using them? Good
questions. I felt that Axelrod had no answer.
Klein said that Obama has cut taxes three times, and people are unaware of it. Klein had talked to somebody at a town meeting who told him she had recently noticed that the government had debited $250 to her bank account and she didn't know why. Turned out it was a payment arising from the decision to close the so-called doughnut hole in Medicare coverage. When George Bush did something similar, checks were sent out with the president's signature on them. This administration silently debited the cash. It's bad politics, said Klein.