Axelrod On Wave Of Political Crises: 'You Just Shake Your Head And Smile And Say This Can't Be'

09/10/2010 10:35 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

The president is set to give his first press conference since late May but there is a strong likelihood that the topics the White House would like to discuss will end up on the back burner.

A crazed pastor in Florida pledging to burn Qurans, the possibility of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel making a run for mayor of Chicago, the lingering effects of the oil spill in the Gulf, and the controversial construction of an Islamic Cultural Center in downtown Manhattan have all distracted the media and the public from a conversation the administration was hoping to have on the economy and jobs. They seem likely, as well, to be the basis for questions posed to Obama when he takes the lectern in the White House East Room shortly after 11:00 a.m. on Friday.

In an interview with the Huffington Post last week, Senior Adviser David Axelrod acknowledged just how frustrating it's been to be thrown off script by a continuing wave of either manufactured, symbolic, or very serious crises. He declined to complain, of course. But he noted, somewhat tellingly, that the difficulties of governance have done a bit of damage to the Obama brand.

Obama and his team's reputation as messaging gurus was predicated, in large part, on the fact that there was only one narrative to control: the presidential campaign. Once they took office, the dynamics changed, the narratives expanded uncontrollably and the perception that the president's team was made up of virtuosos was gone.

"You can only do what you can do and there are certain things that you can't prevent," said Axelrod. "There are days when you just shake your head and smile and say this can't be. But again, I am loath to complain about things when there are people all over this country who have genuinely existential crises going on right now."

"Here is the nature of the presidency," he added. "People say: 'Gee, you guys were so smart during the campaign. You really controlled the message during the campaign. Why aren't you controlling the message now?' Well, you know what, governing is different because you have responsibilities. You can't say, you know what I don't want to deal with the oil spill today, I'll wait for another time to deal with that, or let's park the H1N1 flu for a few months and deal with another thing. That's not the nature of the presidency -- you have to deal with what comes. And we have had a lot of challenges but that is what we signed up for and I'm just not going to complain."