By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

David Axelrod and the wages of workaholism

Old friend Mark Leibovich has a profile of President Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod, in today’s New York Times. The premise is that many Democrats are wondering if Axelrod is too much the star-struck Obama groupie to be effective. But what really caught my eye was this:

Mr. Axelrod’s friends worry about the toll of his job — citing his diet (cold-cut-enriched), his weight (20 pounds heavier than at the start of the presidential campaign), sleep deprivation (five fitful hours a night), separation from family (most back home in Chicago) and the fact that at 55, he is considerably older than many of the wunderkind workaholics of the West Wing. He wakes at 6 in his rented condominium just blocks from the White House and typically returns around 11.

Leibovich also finds Axelrod “tearing into a five-inch corned beef sandwich on rye with a Flintstone-size turkey drumstick waiting on deck.”

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Axelrod really has lost his mojo. Don’t you think he might be doing a better job if he were working, say, eight to 10 hours a day, eating properly, sleeping eight hours a night and getting some exercise?

As it stands, his routine would bring most of us to the brink of a nervous breakdown. That can’t be good for the president or the causes he champions.

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  1. BP Myers

    Charles Ross came immediately to mind.

  2. Neil Sagan

    Wherein Dan takes a short walk from Axelrod’s diet and sleep habits to improved WH strategy.

  3. David Beard


    Nice post. I worked a couple desks away from Axelrod when I was intern on the Chicago Tribune — and he had a Senator Bluto Blutarsky/Belushi poster hanging beside him. What worked in those days was a nice matsoh ball soup at Manny’s — not slenderizing either, but soulful.


  4. L.K.Collins

    But Axelrod and those like him are sooooo indispensible.

    They are the elite, and the people need leading!

  5. Al Fiantaca

    I wonder how typical this behavior is for a White House staffer, of any administration?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Al: Unfortunately, I think it’s more typical than not.

  6. it’s not healthy for anyone, no matter what job they do. I can only imagine what it’s like for someone in that kind of position.

  7. Pat Danielson

    Read this week’s New Yorker article on Richard Daley the younger to find the history of Axelrod’s transition from being a Daley operative and foe of Obama to being an Obama operative. Two articles in one that that damn Axelrod with faint praise seem to indicate that someone is greasing the skids under this person, no matter how hard he works.

  8. Christian Avard

    Let’s hope Axelrod’s workaholism explains this response and not what Obama really believes. Courtesy of Talking Points Memo.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: Looks to me in that clip like Axelrod didn’t know the answer to the question. Maybe he hadn’t been putting in enough hours!

  9. BP Myers

    @Christian said: Let’s hope Axelrod’s workaholism explains this response and not what Obama really believes.

    It is to play with words for Cheney to say Obama “reserves the right for himself to order enhanced interrogation techniques.” And I’m not sure it was ever made clear exactly what he was talking about.

    The Executive Order is here and speaks for itself.

    But the way I read it, it declares that the United States will (once again) abide by the Geneva Convention, and further revokes Bush’s executive orders that allowed so-called enhanced interrogation. It essentially sets the clock back to the way things were before Bush.

    If there are questions now about what Obama “believes” or where he would draw a line, that question existed before Bush and I suspect will exist long after Obama.

  10. LFNeilson

    I firmly believe that if I hadn’t traded my 16-hour days for the twice a day tides on the coast of Maine that you would have been at my funeral perhaps a dozen years ago, Dan. Deadlines — now there’s a word. (Retired at 47)

  11. Nial Lynch

    Christian: Anytime a spokesperson fails to use the words yes or no during a ninety-second answer, he’s spinning.

  12. Mike Benedict

    What this speaks volumes to is the eight years GW spent mailing it in. He actually thought being chief executive of the US — the most powerful, important job in the world — was a 40 hour a week job. And that’s including the one-hour lunch break and workout each day.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mike: I honestly think the long hours are overrated. If Bush had used the 40 hours he worked more wisely, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Reagan wasn’t exactly a workaholic, but I don’t think anyone would argue that his presidency would have been notably different or better if he’d put in 80-hour weeks. Clinton thrived on constant activity, work-related and otherwise. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that Obama’s not working hard. But there have been some stories about his believing that striking the right balance between work and family is more important to him than it is to his staff.

  13. BP Myers

    @Dan said: But there have been some stories about his believing that striking the right balance between work and family is more important to him than it is to his staff.

    Not sure if that’s just clumsily framed, but I have a hard time believing that is true. Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, they can all take the rest of the year off.

    I don’t think I’d even notice.

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