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Channeling David Axelrod

January 25, 2012

In a rare moment of senior-presidential-adviser-to-senior-presidential-adviser telepathy, I overheard the private thoughts of David Axelrod as he prepared to appear on television Tuesday night, following President Barack Obama's State of the Union address:

Well, this is about as pleasant as a dentist appointment. Sure hope we're right that no matter what the question is, all I need to say is, "President Obama believes everyone should get a fair shot, everyone should do their fair share, and everyone should play by the same set of rules." Say it loud, say it proud, say it again and again.

Speaking of which, I love that line about "asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary." Sure, the top 10% pay 70% of federal income taxes, so billionaires already pay more taxes than their secretaries, and no one's really for doubling capital gains taxes. But it sounds so good, and stokes so much anger toward the rich.

I did enjoy how Barack went after Congress. A couple of times it looked like he was going to turn around and slap Boehner for obstructing his agenda. Hope it helps voters forget we Democrats controlled both chambers for two years and got pretty much everything we wanted. Now we have to pretend it never happened.

But do I really have to appear on Chris Matthews again? He's always interrupting me with "It's true" or "I agree." Good lord, he even calls me Barack's "much beloved senior strategist" and says that Obama has "done great things, he's put points on the board." Valerie loves that stuff—soaks it up—but it's too much for me. On the other hand, we have to fire up our true believers—and what better place than on Matthews?

Matthews toadies too much, but Candy Crowley challenges me more than I want—like pointing out that there are 1.7 million fewer jobs since Barack took over and dropping that CNN poll on me that says Romney leads by 13 points on who can best get the economy moving again.

Aw, the Mittster: I know we're not supposed to want him, but truth is I'd like to go after him for being so successful in business. Thank goodness Newt and Perry did the spadework on Bain. What did a New York Times reporter call Newt? Our "useful surrogate"?

I especially want to hit Mitt on the car companies: Repeat after me, over and over, "We would have lost 1.4 million jobs" if we'd let them go bankrupt as Romney urged. As if that many people work for the Big Three and as if going through bankruptcy meant liquidation. Fortunately most voters don't know any better. Hell, if the car companies went through bankruptcy, we couldn't have rewarded the UAW.

And Newt. Like I told reporters, "he's back as the lion in winter. That's L-I-O-N." Called him a liar, but subliminally. Of course, I compared him to a monkey a few weeks ago and the press just laughed along.

Jeez, do I have Stephanopoulos tomorrow morning? Early wake up. He's tougher than most, but heck, George let me get away with saying "I'm not sure Mitt Romney would have made that decision" to kill bin Laden.

The one thing that keeps me up at night is that we're so vulnerable. The economy still sucks—and housing's worse. Barack's approval ratings are underwater. Pollster.com says 37% favor and 50% oppose ObamaCare—er, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Barack is the first Democratic president to have a negative approval rating in Gallup on health care.

Maybe Rahm was right. Go incremental, he said. The rest of us said health reform would be a winning issue in 2012. No wonder Barack gave the subject only 44 words in his address. But that's not as bad as the stimulus and "shovel-ready projects." Zip in the speech on those.

These State of the Union addresses are fine, but I'm glad it's over. In that setting it's hard to use a baseball bat to club Republicans. Now we can and will—for nine straight months. Plouffe was saying it would be nice if we actually had a record we could defend and a positive vision to offer. I told him we don't—and get used to it. Let's make a virtue of simplicity. Our job, as we say around here, is to savage the GOP nominee, grind him to dust, turn him into a freak. I'm ready. After all, it's the Chicago Way.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, January 25, 2012.

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