David Axelrod and President Barack Obama are close, but not so close, Axelrod said tonight, that he can tell whether his boss has started smoking again.
"The president and I are close, but we don't get that close," the president's senior political adviser said tonight, in the taping of the National Public Radio news quiz show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me,'' a program that will air nationally this weekend.
Everyone knows how successful the president has been, host Peter Sagal asked the consultant before a packed house in an auditorium here, but is there anything they 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..."
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 in which well-known people are tossed questions in the category of: "Not My Job.'' That was his job tonight.
The show, which airs on NPR stations this weekend, normally 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 paces, introducing the longtime adviser 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 has not changed, his longtime friend said tonight, 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.
The administration suffered some criticism for working in the White House without ties, one of the panelists noted.
"That was carefully considered," Axelrod said of their predecessors. "We saw they always wore coats in the Oval Office, and we saw how things turned out."
Is a typical day better or worse than the television serial, West Wing, Sagal asked. The day does start at 7, Axelrod said, recalling one day of endless crises falling in their laps, ending with word that Fargo was being evacuated for flooding.
"This is the West Wing," he said.
Is the dialog as "crackling?''
"Yes it is," Axelrod said, "but much like this show, we can re-record it."
Has the administration ever grown weary of the word, 'change," Paula Poundstone, a comedienne 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 it will suffice to say that winning NPR's signature voice of Carl Kassel on his home answering machine would be one of the bigger challenges for the president's close adviser at the end of this long day. But when all was said and done, it was noted that, while politicians come and go, consultants are here to stay.