Take That Job and Shove It

Advice for David Axelrod and Steve Schmidt: Don’t follow your candidate to the White House.

Dear David and Steve:

A couple of leading publications this week put the cart before the horse and speculated about Axelrod’s role in an Obama administration. Politico reported that, should Obama win, David has indicated he would “seriously consider taking on a job in the administration.”

There’s nothing more exciting in politics than a new presidency. The man one of you worked to elect will be the most powerful man in the world. Many of your close friends will be taking important jobs in the White House and federal government. You will want to be there. You will want to be part of it. After all, you sacrificed a couple years of your life to get this far. Why on earth drop out now?

It’s almost impossible to resist the temptation and seductive power of taking part in a new administration. But let me offer you the same advice Paul Begala offered me eight years ago: Don’t do it. If you do, you will likely regret it. You will sacrifice the life you know for one that will leave you exhausted, frustrated, and potentially penniless (after you pay all your legal bills). And you’ll find it maddening and depressing to discover just how difficult it is to make something happen when you’re dealing with the federal bureaucracy. Ain’t like the campaign world you’re used to, where you can wake up with an idea and get it done by the 6:00 p.m. news.

If you take a job in the White House, you will sacrifice the life you know for one that will leave you exhausted, frustrated, and potentially penniless (after you pay all your legal bills).

Most importantly, you will lose the special and unique quality of the relationship you once had with your friend and former client because, once you become part of the White House staff, you ultimately will be treated like staff. It’s just part of the hierarchical nature of the White House. Everyone is staff. No one is a pal.

Stay in Chicago or Sacramento. Maintain your priorities and perspective from outside the beltway. You’ll be able to provide much more valuable counsel and insight from there. You’ll see things differently. You’ll have insight into how the rest of America views life. You move inside the Beltway and your body gets snatched.

Get a hall pass. It’s much more fun. You can visit when you want and hang out in the oval office and at the residence. And you can continue to be something truly valuable to a president: a good friend who can bring some straight talk from the real world.

Now, I offer one important caveat. Your guy is going to have to confront the most challenging issues ever faced by a new president. And he will need the very best and brightest by his side. You should honestly ask yourself the question, “Is there a role in the White House that no one else can serve but me?” In my case, the answer was easy. There were many people more qualified than me to serve in every slot. But in your case, the answer could be different. There may be counsel and insight only you can provide that will help Sens. Obama or McCain succeed. And if the answer to that question is yes, then you have an obligation to put your own interests aside and serve this country.

I don’t buy the nonsense that political consultants shouldn’t be in the White House. I know that both of you, like most others, are in this business because you care about public policy and improving the human condition.

Private sector savants or servants of democracy? If you get the brass ring Tuesday, I know you will both serve your guy well either way.