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David Axelrod does a turn on NPR's 'Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me'

May 14, 2009 |  9:22 pm

David Axelrod and President Obama are close, but even so, Axelrod said Thursday night, he can't tell whether his boss has started smoking again.

 “The president and I are close, but we don’t get that close,” Obama’s senior political advisor said in the taping of National Public Radio's witty news quiz show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." This installment of the program will air nationally this weekend.

Everyone knows how successful the president has been, host Peter Sagal told Axelrod before a packed house in an auditorium. But is there anything, Sagal asked, Obama’s crew would have done differently in the campaign?

“The whole Barack Hussein Obama thing,” Axelrod replied, joking. “We thought about changing that … Barry O, or something … ” David Axelrod Obama adviser

Axelrod was seated in a gray suit, tie-less, on a stage at George Washington University, with a sold-out audience for an evening’s taping of the weekly production of NPR and Chicago Public Radio.

The show usually is taped before an audience in Chicago. But for this on-the-road edition in Washington, the producers found a willing foil in the Chicago-based political consultant who helped the Chicagoan named Obama win the White House.

Sagal put Axelrod through his paces, introducing the longtime advisor to the president as a seasoned political consultant who first met Obama in 1992, fell to one knee and said, “You’re the one.”

“Everybody asks me, what’s the key to being a success as a political consultant?” Axelrod said. “Good taste.”

 “That’s why you worked for Eliot Spitzer,” Sagal said of the former New York governor who quit after a spin with a call girl.

Obama hasn’t changed, Axelrod said, but life has. “Now I have to come to work every morning at 7 o’clock and wear a tie,” Axelrod said. “What exactly do you do?” Sagal asked.

 “You sound like the president,” Axelrod said.

The host asked how much political calculation goes into matters such as the selection of the ...

... First Dog, Bo – an obvious play for the vote of the Portuguese American community. “I only got called in for the final three,” Axelrod joked, adding in a more serious vein: “I wasn’t consulted.”

“Who were the other two?” asked Mo Rocca, a comedian on the three-personality panel of the weekly radio show.

“One was Miss California,” replied Axelrod, without missing a beat, about the beauty queen whom the hosts of the show had spent some time joking about before he stepped on stage.

One of the panelists noted that the administration suffered some criticism for working in the White House without ties. “That was carefully considered,” Axelrod said. And alluding to the administration’s predecessors, added, “We saw they always wore coats in the Oval Office, and we saw how things turned out."

Has the administration ever grown weary of the word "change," Paula Poundstone, a comedian on the panel, asked. It has gotten to be a bit much for her, she said – she couldn’t even change a dollar. “We thought about changing ‘change,’ ” Axelrod said, but “we’re so invested in it.”

Axelrod also went through a grilling of obscure historical questions, and suffice it to say he did not win the show’s regular prize — the signature voice of NPR’s Carl Kassel on his home answering machine. But when all was said and done, it was noted that, while politicians come and go, consultants are here to stay. “Barack Obama can only serve two terms,” Poundstone told Axelrod. “But you can go on forever.”

-- Mark Silva

Photo: Associated Press (Axelrod).

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