Via Greg Sargent:
David Axelrod chatted with around a dozen bloggers at the White House late yesterday, and I got a chance to ask him to respond to all the claims — coming from left-leaning, right-leaning and nonpartisan observers alike — that Obama is in the midst of an ideological makeover in the wake of the 2010 losses and in preparation for reelection.
Axelrod adamantly denied there had been any discussions about repositioning at all and reaffirmed that Obama is a “progressive.” Axelrod’s answer, alternately frustrated and pleading, is worth quoting at length, because it captures something interesting about the collision between Obama and Axelrod and Washington’s permanent culture.
And here’s what Axelrod said:
I’m not going to change the nature of this town and the nature of our politics….But we tend to sit on the back of the truck and look at what happened before, and then define what’s happening now in the context of what happened some other time.
So, Bill Clinton repositioned himself to the center, and that’s the prescription for what you do and so on. I guarantee you, as God is my witness, we have not had a repositioning discussion here. We have not talked about, “let’s move three degrees to the right.” That’s not the way we view this.
It is true that we have to go back to first principles and really think about what it is that drives us and what it is that has been so central to Barack Obama’s public life and outlook. Because some of that has been sort of ground down in the minutia of day-to-day governing here…
I mean, there’s nothing that the President said last night that I couldn’t draw a straight line from to speeches that he has made way back to 2004.
I got a reporter’s inquiry, `the President seemed very optimistic and he seemed to be talking about American exceptionalism last night, and is this a reaction to the elections?’ And I said, go back to his convention speech in 2004.
When the President got the call that he was going to give the keynote speech at the convention in 2004, I was with him. We were driving in a car in downstate Illinois, on some dark road somewhere with bad cell service. So we had to call back and confirm that he actually was going to be the keynote speaker, because the call got dropped. And the first thing he said was, “I think what I want to do is wrap my story in the larger American story and talk about what it is that makes us who we are.”
And it’s something that he believes deeply in, and it’s what he talked about last night…I mean, there’s no doubt he is progressive in his outlook and that’s what he believes in. But he has never been particularly dogmatic…His fundamental view is you don’t have to agree on everything, or even most things, to work together on some things. And so there was no sort of grand repositioning…
But I’m not going to defeat this. I had a politician in this town say to me, after the speech in Tucson, “Boy, that was a great speech. I can see he is really thinking about re-election.” And I’m thinking, “What are you talking about?” Because I spoke to the President before and after that speech, and I’ll tell you what he was thinking about more than anything else. He was speaking about a nine-year-old girl who was about the same age as his girl. And he was pretty broken up about it. And all he wanted to do was speak to that moment.
But everything in this town gets evaluated in that way, and that’s just the way it is. Anybody who says that, I will give them a volume of Barack Obama speeches going back many, many years, and I will defy them to say, where has he changed? Where is he different? Where is his basic approach different than it was when he started on this journey five and six and seven years ago?