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David Axelrod: Modern-Day Walter Mitty

Axelrod started out as a spectator in the boonies. Next thing you know, he's masterminding, and winning, one of the most exciting presidential campaigns in American history.
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It's easy to focus on the big money David Axelrod raked in and will be giving up if he joins the Obama administration as a senior adviser to the president. But if you look at the bigger picture, what you see is a modern-day Walter Mitty who ought to be the hero of politics fans everywhere. He might even be able to make up some of that pay cut by shopping himself around for a made-for-TV movie.

Axelrod, after all, started out as a spectator in the boonies -- a schlumpy guy with a notebook following around a bunch of Chicago pols. Next thing you know, he's masterminding, and winning, one of the most exciting presidential campaigns in American history. In sports, that would be like going from the press box or the bleachers to managing a World Series champion or winning the Super Bowl.

And if you think Barack Obama made it easy, just remember how many NBA championships Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won (zero) before Phil Jackson came in as coach.
The Washington Post's David Broder, the dean of the political press corps, has been covering politics since LBJ was president. Do you think he could do that? How about Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity? Anderson Cooper? Your favorite bloggers? You?

Of course, Axelrod didn't get there overnight. David and I knew each other casually when we were both young reporters for the Chicago Tribune. Political reporters, as in Washington, were the elite; the rest of us were there to provide copy that kept the ads from bumping together, back when there were ads. But it was obvious even then that David was very sharp and hard working, and I remember being shocked when the managing editor, a former political reporter, passed David over for the chief political correspondent job when it became vacant. David left, went into consulting and built up his strategy expertise and electoral success one politician at a time.

His journalistic successor, I suspect, stares at his 401(k) and then pours himself another drink. (The same editor passed me over for a promotion a few years later, prompting a fortuitous exit from journalism for me, as well.)

If Axelrod takes the post Obama has proffered, he'll complete the transition from spectator to big-league manager to star player. A few journalists have gone in that same direction, such as Strobe Talbott, a long-time diplomatic correspondent at Time, hired by his long-time friend Bill Clinton as a Deputy Secretary at the State Department. But that's barely Triple-A ball compared to what Axelrod will be doing. Then there's The Tennessean investigative reporter who almost became president of the United States. However, former vice president Al Gore was just playing at journalism before assuming his rightful role in the family dynasty.

As many reporters have pointedly noted, the Obama campaign wasn't particularly press friendly, and I don't expect Axelrod to show any favoritism towards former Fourth Estaters. In other words, Maureen Dowd will not be running anything in the U.S. government anytime soon.