Somewhere out there in the great political beyond, Millard Fillmore is grinning from ear to ear. America’s 13th president and later a failed Know-Nothing Party candidate for the same office in 1856 must be all smiles as he watches David Axelrod put a new twist on the old nativists’ response to questions about their activities: “I know nothing.”
Axelrod, who has been President Barack Obama’s chief political strategist since the 2008 presidential campaign, was charged with finding a strategy to change the focus of the 2010 election to something, anything, other than the chief executive’s failed record on taxes, spending and the economy.
The Axelrod strategy was simple: Send Obama out on the campaign trail to attack the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie and other Republicans with a transparently groundless charge of accepting foreign campaign contributions. Then make sure that the Democratic National Committee spends millions on negative TV spots endlessly repeating the smear, and that Democrats’ echo chamber in the liberal mainstream media and the nonprofit-activism community keeps recycling it over and over until Election Day.
But Axelrod’s strategy failed for an ugly reason that was vividly put on display Sunday when veteran CBS News chief political correspondent Bob Schieffer grilled him on “Face the Nation.”
Schieffer asked Axelrod: “This part about foreign money, that appears to be peanuts,” Schieffer said. “Mr. Axelrod, do you have any evidence that it’s anything other than peanuts?” Axelrod’s response: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?” A clearly incredulous Schieffer then asked: “Is that all you’ve got?”
Schieffer’s incredulity was mirrored by ABC News’ Jake Tapper, who responded to Axelrod by asking him this very pertinent question: “Isn’t that like the whack jobs that tell the president he needs to show them his full long-form birth certificate so he can put to rest the questions that have been raised?”
The visibly hostile reactions of Schieffer and Tapper suggest that there could be a silver lining in this otherwise disreputable episode. Could it be that by asking journalists to report uncritically an obviously unfounded accusation, Obama and Axelrod finally wore out their welcome with the honorable journalists covering the administration?
And in doing so, have the smartest guys in the room of American politics thereby induced the White House press corps to rediscover its professional skepticism about all officeholders, including the guy in the Oval Office, that has been missing for 18 months?
Maybe now Obama will be treated by the Fourth Estate as a president instead of a historical milestone on a pedestal.