David Axelrod on Why ‘Democracy is Messy’ and the Future of Politics (Ep. 14)

David Axelrod departed Washington, D.C. because he knew it’d be hard to top his role in helping Barack Obama make history.

But when the president’s former senior adviser began the next chapter in his illustrious career, he looked to his alma mater to make an impact.

Axelrod, AB’76, founded the non-partisan Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago in 2012. In the years since, Axelrod has helped build upon the University’s tradition of wide-ranging debate by welcoming guests ranging from Senator Bernie Sanders to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. He’s also interviewed hundreds of celebrities and politicians—most recently, President Obama—as host of the “Axe Files” podcast.

But as he said on Big Brains, Axelrod takes the most satisfaction in helping inspire UChicago students to get involved in public service and politics.

“I go home feeling optimistic every day. These are trying times, and there are a lot of reasons to be concerned about the future,” Axelrod said, “I feel much better about the future having spent all this time with these young people who are skeptical but they’re not cynical, and they believe they have a role to play in the world.”

On this episode of Big Brains, Axelrod discusses the 2018 midterms, how seeing JFK at age 5 inspired a career in politics, and how today’s divisive political climate emerged following Obama’s 2008 election.