In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt: Our Shot

Should I Get a Booster? And the Politics of Vaccines (with David Axelrod)

Subscribe to Lemonada Premium for Bonus Content


To begin, Andy has thoughts on CPAC attendees cheering the US not hitting its vaccine goal. Then, David Axelrod, longtime Democratic strategist, joins Andy for a deep dive into the topic of the unvaccinated. They also contemplate how the pandemic will affect the 2022 and 2024 elections and lament the politicization of public health.


Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt. Check out In the Bubble’s Twitter account @inthebubblepod.


Follow David Axelrod on Twitter @davidaxelrod.


Joining Lemonada Premium is a great way to support our show and get bonus content. Subscribe today at


Support the show by checking out our sponsors!



Check out these resources from today’s episode: 



Stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.


For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit



Andy Slavitt, Hugh Hewitt, David Axelrod

Andy Slavitt  00:04

Welcome IN THE BUBBLE. This is your host, Andy Slavitt. The voice that you just heard, were the voices from CPAC. The Conservative Political Action Committee, as narrated by Jake Tapper, who heard a conspiracy theorist on the main stage. Someone who frankly I don’t intend to dignify by mentioning his name.

Andy Slavitt 

This follows a conversation with Frank Luntz that we had on the show on Monday. That was an incredible conversation about how vaccines are beginning to get politicized. And anti-vax is becoming kind of a cause celeb of I’d say the radical right, I wouldn’t say the entire Republican party, yet although it’s in danger. If you haven’t heard the conversation with Luntz, go back and listen before this conversation, which is also incredible, but it really in some ways as a part two, to the conversation with Luntz, I’ve gotten more feedback on the episode with Frank than any episode I think we’ve ever done. It was intense. It was emotional. It was raw. I found myself in uncharted territories, Frank clearly found himself in uncharted territory. I’ve gone back and listened to it several times. And you know, there are some shows that really hit the mark and some shows that fall short of the mark.

Andy Slavitt  02:52

I really feel like that was one that hit the mark, and accomplished what we were trying to accomplish. This is part two. And while I knew that Frank’s conversations would amp things up, I wanted someone to help us make reasonable sense of things, someone who could put all things in perspective, Frank is very close to and committed to and challenged by this problem of the unvaccinated and our inability to talk to one another and the politicization. And David Axelrod, who is on the show today is on the other hand, one of the most thoughtful, sophisticated, and reasonable, guys, he is very knowledgeable. He was a political adviser to President Obama. He’s one of the reasons why President Obama became president in the first place.

Andy Slavitt

And he is really well positioned to talk about okay, if everything’s getting politicized, what does it mean, and what do we do about it? There aren’t necessarily easy answers, but you’ll find that we found some and we sorted a few things. And it actually ends positively. The first show ended with Luntz very emotionally, obviously, this one ends somewhat emotionally as well. But I think really positively. If you want to listen from the start of this series, the OUR SHOT series. I would encourage you if you haven’t, you know, it starts with what happened last year and our heroes. We then cover what happened politically by talking about the book Preventable, which is the book that I wrote. And by the way, if you haven’t bought it yet, all proceeds from the book are donated to the very causes we donate to on the show, including world central kitchen and United States of care.

Andy Slavitt  04:51

People who really have done the work, so you can feel good about that. I also think you’ll really enjoy it if you haven’t read it. That next week, we focus on how we hear information and how we get communicated with and trust. Jen Psaki, who’s the really wonderful White House Press Secretary who doesn’t do these things very often came on and had a very frank in that conversation. And then after that we had Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC came on to talk about in respond to some of the things that the CDC is being asked, and a lot of your questions get answered there. Last week, there was our third of the 10-part series. And we really wanted to get a frame people with where are we now. We talked about what’s safe and unsafe. And we had a great conversation with Scott Gottlieb.

Andy Slavitt 

So this week has been the first of the deep dive topics we’ve been talking about the unvaccinated in coming weeks, after you listen to these episodes, we’re going to talk about issues around children, around the global issues that are very real. We’re going to talk about what happens next scientifically. We’re going to talk about race, and some of the issues that haunt us there. And we’re going to talk about misinformation and disinformation. So those are some of the topics upcoming. Another tip, if you are listening on Apple, and you want to hear the longer uncut version of prior shows, you can find a subscribe button to the premium service, right on our IN THE BUBBLE page, right on the Apple App.

Andy Slavitt  06:26

And you can do that and you can get kind of the uncut content. Why do we do this? Well, we just save all of the conversations that have that go on a little bit longer. And, you know, also I think we charge money so that we don’t have to put the whole show behind the paywall. For those same reason, we do advertising, which I’m sure people don’t love. But people should feel at least good about the fact that the money that comes to me all gets donated. So you don’t have to feel like you’d be spending money on something that isn’t doing any good.

Andy Slavitt 

Okay, so where does this all leave us in our sermon today, just important that we understand, we are not going to vaccinate everybody, we get frustrated, as all get out about the fact that there are people that are willingly spreading misinformation, we can get frustrated about the fact that people are not doing what’s best for themselves and are dying needlessly, we’re gonna get, we get frustrated about the fact that that could lead to more variance, you know, all those things can drive us crazy. But you know, you have to also, I think, come to peace with the fact that we can only control what you can control. And you can control whether you get vaccinated, you can control to a degree whether your friends and family get vaccinated, you can certainly try to influence things.

Andy Slavitt

But the truth of the matter is that there are some people that are just not going to get vaccinated, and it’s probably a larger number that we want. And it’s probably a larger number than it’s healthy for society. At the end of the day, that […] challenges, but it doesn’t change the fact that we still would have these challenges anyway. So we’ll be tough to watch. But by being vaccinated, we put ourselves in a much, much safer position, as well as taking other precautions. What are some things we do control? I think the big question of the week, the one that I’ve been on TV, getting asked the most about in the last few days, is this question of, should I get a booster? Should I get a booster shot? Will I need a booster? Will I need a booster shot?

Andy Slavitt  08:37

So let me start with the state of play. Pfizer has filed with the FDA to get authorization for a third shot. And they have said that they have seen evidence in data that a third shot will or will likely be needed because they’re seeing waning immunity in some populations. So I’ll tell you that what they saw was some data that came out of Israel and I talked about this on my show with Scott Gottlieb, where I had suggested that in Israel, we were having a challenge may not be that the vaccine isn’t working as well, rather that in some populations, we may start to see the waning of the vaccine that will reach a point where in some populations, it may require another boost. So what is actually happening is the data seems to suggest that among older people, and I’m not quite sure where the age cutoff is.

Andy Slavitt 

That people over 65 that at some point in time, the vaccines will start to get less effective, particularly for people that got them a little bit on the early side. So in anticipation of that, the Israeli government has said that they’re going to start to allow for a third boost and Pfizer has applied […] here In the US, that will confuse people is that the CDC, the FDA came out with a release and said, not so fast. We don’t need boosts yet today; people should continue to get boosted. We’ll make that decision when we considered all the evidence. And there was a bit of a shouting match, or a perceived shouting match. But the truth is, this is how it should be. I’m not so concerned, I’ve been talking to Pfizer, and I’ve been talking to the government. And indeed, these are decisions that should be made by the FDA and the CDC, I am quite confident that they will review the data and make the decision, it is very likely, in my mind that they will say at some point that a third boost is needed for certain populations.

Andy Slavitt  10:42

And I’m guessing we will want to go into the fall or winter, particularly with seniors, that having a chance to get another boost, now would likely be the same shot? So very easy to do. And the good news is the US government has already procured all of these boosts. So these kinds of situations are gonna come up, we’ll try to make sense of them for you on the show, nobody needs to rush out and get a boost. Today, if you want to hear about the J&J situation, you can go back and listen to the episode we did on the Delta variant question nobody will answer. But here to summarize, if you’re older, if you have preexisting conditions, you can expect to wait on the analysis probably before fall or winter, the maybe you may have taken boost. And the other thing I’d say is if you live in an area with rising cases, you don’t need a boost. But on the margin, you will be wanting to consider whether or not you want to take extra protections. Those are largely in the states that have increased hospitalizations, I’d say it’s probably a reasonable idea.

Andy Slavitt

So nothing more to jump on at the moment. But I can assure you that people are all over this and focused on this. And we’ll hear more when we need to. So let’s go into our conversation with David Axelrod. And let’s understand the question of why can’t we separate politics here from vaccines, and let’s get some real insight into what this means for us and for the country right now. Let’s welcome David. David is the host of the great podcasts, THE AXE FILES. And he is also part of the show, HACKS ON TAP. He is at a place called the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago. He’s a wonderful guy. I think you’ll really love this episode and love listening to David. So let’s welcome him.

Andy Slavitt

How are you?

David Axelrod  12:47

Good. How about you?

Andy Slavitt 

I’m okay. I’m making a difficult adjustment out of the White House from not having to answer my phone every 10 minutes.

David Axelrod 

Yeah. So you were there in DC. And are you back in Minnesota now?

Andy Slavitt 

Oh, actually, in California, while I was gone. My wife bothered to move. She told me thankfully. There is some actually serious stuff to talk about as there always is.

David Axelrod 

Yeah, I have a few things I want to ask you.

Andy Slavitt 

Okay, well, we can start there. What do you want to ask me?

David Axelrod 

Well, how worried are you about COVID springing up again, because of people who won’t get vaccinated. And because of the variant, the Delta variant?

Andy Slavitt 

Well, I’m worried for people who haven’t been vaccinated. I’m not so worried for people who’ve been vaccinated. You know, I think it’s not that COVID will present a zero risk to people who have been vaccinated. But COVID will be I think, well down there on the list of risks in your life, if you’re vaccinated. And it is unfortunate now, because a lot of what we’re dealing with are preventable deaths, you know, looking at what’s going on in Missouri today and looking at in other parts of the country. And you know, there are parts of the country that have very low vaccination rates. And in those places, the vast majority of people get COVID. The vast, vast majority will be people who aren’t vaccinated, but some people will get COVID who haven’t vaccinated very, very, very small percentage of those will get in serious cases over but some will be hospitalized. And you know, there’ll be breakthrough cases. And it’s unfortunate,

David Axelrod  14:22

I heard a mind-boggling stat today out of Maryland, that like I think it was in Maryland, 130 people died or something. I don’t know. But maybe it was Maryland. Maybe it was Missouri, but zero, or people who were vaccinated. It was all people who weren’t vaccinated. And yeah, it’s mind boggling, because you can save your own life. My concern, Andy is you know, like, I have a sister-in-law who lives near me in Michigan. She had a heart transplant five years ago, she got vaccinated, but she’s not producing any antibodies because she’s immunosuppressed. And I worry about her, I worry about having asymptomatic COVID because I’m vaccinated and being around my sister-in-law and infecting her. And you know, there are I think there’ll be some tragic stories like that. where people are infected who because others didn’t even know they had it.

Andy Slavitt

Yeah, I would take precautions around your sister-in-law. I mean, look, the chances of you getting COVID asymptomatically as someone who’s vaccinated, and having enough of viral load to share with her is a lot, lot, lot lower risk than we’ve been facing before. But it’s not zero, right. And by the way, like, since when we only made a decision based on what the scientific analysis tells us, we’re always a little more cautious. We bring them a little bit more of our own personal feelings in psychology, and so forth. And we want people to be safe and to feel safe. So I would, by all means, went around her. Take a few extra precautions. But, you know, if you said to me, You know, I’m wearing a mask, and she’s wearing a mask, can I give her a hug? I’d say, yeah, you can? I mean, I wouldn’t take unnecessary risks. But I also would, you know, where we’re not at the point of life, where I think we need to assume that any interaction is going to cause a transaction of COVID. If you’re vaccinated, I think that’s very unlikely.

David Axelrod  16:26

But just so long as if we both wear masks, I don’t have to give her a hug. Because there are days when I don’t want to give her a hug.

Andy Slavitt 

No, no, you have to give her a hug. This is the new thing after COVID, we all must hug.

David Axelrod 

Well, hugs, I must say, have a special meaning now went after not being able to, to do them. So let me help you segue to other stuff. And say, you know, the tragic thing about these deaths is that had we not politicize this whole deal? had people been told from the beginning by people who should have known better, and probably did know better, that you know, what, we all got to get vaccinated, because that’s how we save each other’s lives. And that is not a Republican or a democratic thing. That is, like a human thing. If we had done that, from the beginning, we, you know, there’s no mystery as to why there are these, you know, vaccine deserts as they were in parts of the country. And some of it has to do with politics. And that’s really, that’s hard to take.

Andy Slavitt

As I said in the introduction, you’re a Democratic strategist. But you’re also someone who I think..

David Axelrod 

Retired. Yes.

Andy Slavitt 

You’re retired democratic strategist, you’re now a sort of full-time kind of commentator. You call yourself a hack and one of your shows, lovingly. But you’re also someone who, despite being a Democrat has been part of the reason why you develop such a wonderful reputation as you’re someone who is able to call it like you see it and not be blinded by your own partisanship. So when you see stupid stuff in your own party, you call it out when you see good things the other party, you’re able to call it out. So let me ask you this question. Do you have the theory that if Mitt Romney had been president instead of Donald Trump, we would have had a far different type of COVID response?

David Axelrod  18:28

Yeah, I think we would have, absolutely. I, you know, part of it would be given our political environment, if Mitt Romney were president would there be people who would not take advice from a Mitt Romney administration on this, there would have been those people as well. But yeah, I think he would have had a steady, science driven, consistent response from the beginning. And that’s, you know, not this kind of wild lurching and, you know, weaponizing of issues around the virus and so on turning masks into, you know, objects of derision. And so, yeah, I think it would have been different.

Andy Slavitt

So it’s a strange counterfactual, right, because it presumes that Mitt Romney could have been elected president.

David Axelrod 

Well, that’s a different question, you didn’t ask me that.

Andy Slavitt 

I know, I didn’t. I know I didn’t. So it’s a bit of a circular question, right, because it assumes we live in a world where the Republican Party is majority people who want Romney to be president. And so it’s hard to separate the and I guess I’m asking if you’re able to delineate between the affected leadership would have had and just the very divisive nature of our country right now?

David Axelrod 

No, it’s a really good question. I do think that Trump had, you know, he has a cult like following. And had he said from the beginning, these are some things that we need to do that he could have reached some people who maybe a Mitt Romney or a Joe Biden couldn’t reach who might have listened. But, you know, it’s a terribly difficult environment. And, you know, that wouldn’t entirely have been the answer, but it would have helped. And more than anything, I’m lamenting that we live in a time in an environment where we are so polarized, that every single thing gets weaponized, even things that may cause people to do things that put their own lives in jeopardy.

Andy Slavitt  21:00

So I would posit to you that Joe Biden is probably as close to an acceptable candidate to the average citizen and all of our parties is a democrat was going to be the cycle. So if anybody has a shot, at communicating with the general public of regardless of political persuasion, and asking people to disregard their politics, when they think about how to respond right now to COVID, he would be a pretty good candidate. And my experience with him and probably yours as well, is he’s someone who kind of fashions himself of being able to relate to the working person, the average person. Doesn’t talk down to people, feels a real kinship, feels a real empathy.

David Axelrod

Yes. Doesn’t look down on people who make their living with their hands or their back or farms, or, you know. No, I think, in that, and that’s the reason why, Andy, he was, he may have been the only Democrat who could have won in 2020. And, you know, there was this just this pupil, or Pew analysis of the election that came out. And, you know, it underscored what we sort of already knew, which is that Biden got more votes from moderate and conservative voters from white non-college voters, as a percentage than Hillary Clinton did, and that probably was decisive for him in several of these battleground states that said, you know, Donald Trump still got 74 million votes. And Biden is sitting here having done, I think, a very creditable job with, you know, an approval rating in the sort of mid 50s at, you know, maybe a little bit under that. So, you know, there is an intractable kind of opposition to him, that just by dint of, he’s in the wrong tribe, and that’s hard to overcome.

Andy Slavitt  22:59

Right. So I think you’ve, you’ve described the situation, as most of us see, but very appropriate words to it. So if you were in the White House now, and you’re giving him strategic communication advice, and he says you pay Axe, you know, what I need to do now is, unify the country and get through to people. Help people understand why getting vaccinated is something they have to listen to. What advice do you have for him in this day and age, given that what we’re really talking about is a reflection, as you said, more of the country and where we are, than him? This isn’t Joe Biden as president in 1990, or 1984. This is Joe Biden as president in 2020.

David Axelrod

Right. Look, first of all, I’m sure he’s getting a lot of good advice. You gave him a lot of good advice, and I don’t have, you know, complaints about the way. I think he’s done, largely done what can be done. I do think one question is, how do you get, you know, can you reach, can you get unlikely kinds of endorsers not of you, but of the idea of getting vaccinated and give them prominence who was a Franklin Graham, who stepped forward. Yeah. But I mean, I think you need a lot more of that kind of thing. You know, people who say, look, I don’t agree with Joe Biden on anything, except that this is really important. This has nothing to do with politics. And, you know, we owe this to ourselves, to our families, to our neighbors. This will save lives and we got to pull together to then we could go back and fight about other things. So I would be looking for other people to step up who would cause people say, Wow, I didn’t see that coming. Maybe I got to rethink that would be the only sort of suggestion I would make.

Andy Slavitt  24:54

On January 20. I called Hugh Hewitt. First day for the White House. And he was very kind. This is the conservative commentator for those who don’t haven’t listened to him before. And he had me on his radio show.

Hugh Hewitt

Welcome back. I’m Hugh Hewitt, America. This is a special couple of segments of the Hugh Hewitt Show. I’m joined by Andrew Slavitt. Andy is an American businessman, healthcare advisor who served as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Under President Obama, he is now a senior advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team under President Biden, and Lanhee Chen, is the David and Diane […] fellow in American Public Policy at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. He also teaches at Hooverd Law School. Andy’s one of those annoying Wharton Harvard Business School types and Lanhee is one of those annoying triple Harvard’s Harvard, undergrad, Harvard Law, Harvard Business School. But together, they’re pretty smart couple of guys, and they are on top of what’s going on with COVID. And I wanted to do a nonpartisan review of where we are right now. And Andy and Lanhee together, have done this before, and they graciously agreed to join me. Thank you about Andy, since you’re new to the show, for the first time, let me begin with you. Would you give people just a brief thumbnail of your background in healthcare policy and how you came to be on the White House task force?

Andy Slavitt  26:19

And he had a conversation about vaccines with us on the air and he took questions. He tweeted about it. He talked about it. And he introduced me to evangelical leaders, who, essentially were very gracious at saying exactly what you just said, a lot of stuff we never get to agree on. But we don’t need to talk about that right now. Because it’s just not important. And then the most common question that we got from the press was so let me say this, the most common annoying question we get from the press, is why don’t you reach out to Donald Trump and asked him to talk to Republicans, which annoyed us to no end. Because, of course, Donald Trump, Trump doesn’t need an invitation to do anything he wants to do. Certainly doesn’t need one from Joe Biden,

David Axelrod

Except turnovers taxes.

Andy Slavitt

Right. And thing about that we learned when we studied this, and we talked to Frank Luntz, who you know, and you know, is pretty plugged in and to the country, how conservative for thinking is he basically said is, people who have been vaccinated don’t trust any politician, they don’t trust the government. They don’t trust pharmaceutical companies; they don’t trust anybody. They really, they really don’t know, personally by and large, and that all of the push, and all of the conversation has to be local. In particular, he said, you know, hearing from your doctor, your specific doctor, or your pharmacist, or maybe your clergy or someone you trust in the community, and we had Frank on the show, and he talked about this. And he basically said, it’s, you know, the way you would interpret it in political parlance is it’s all ground game. The airwaves phases over. And so given that the ground game is by definition harder, if you believe that, you know, is there a path there to communicating with the unvaccinated? What will move them, who will move them, will more deaths move them, will Delta move them, will FDA approval to them? What do you see as the path of the conversation?

David Axelrod  28:25

Well, look, I’m Whoa, sorry. I got so excited by the question, and not my microphone over.

Andy Slavitt 

It’s a pretty good question.

David Axelrod 

Yes. Look, I take Frank’s point, and I’m sure he’s right, because one of the elements of the and not to totally generalize. But I think one of the elements is deep skepticism about or cynicism about institutions and institutional players. So yeah, they’re not necessarily looking for that. I thought your initial question was what should I bite into himself to communicate? And I what I wanted to say what I was saying was, I think he’s reached, you know, there’s a limit to what he personally can do. But Frank’s point is right, in that, you know, I think people look for material they get from their friends and neighbors on Facebook. And yeah, they may listen to their local. So the question is, how do you virally create that kind of conversation, but you do need, you know, you need some kindling there among people in various communities to begin that conversation.

David Axelrod 

And so, you know, I think you have to do the work of finding sort of community voices out there who can be heard and then encouraging people to share the information with their friends and neighbors. I mean, that’s how you do grassroots organizing. So that makes sense to me. But as you point out, that is a you know, that’s a laborious task, and it takes time and I do think you say what will move them, hopefully these stories we’ll move them, people who are dying now. And I think it’s always valuable to put a human face on it. If someone in their community dies, who hasn’t been vaccinated, and their wife or their child says, hey, this is what dad felt, you know, or this is what my husband thought, and we were wrong about that, and he’s gone. John is gone, Tommy is gone. And I don’t want to lose you. So I’m getting vaccinated, I want you to get vaccinated, too. I think that’s the most powerful kind of communication. And maybe part of it is reaching out to people who’ve or doctors of people who have been lost, and try and make those contacts and so on.

Andy Slavitt  30:48

I do think like, I’ve tried to provide a little bit of wisdom here to the audience. And I find it very hard to provide any wisdom here, because I find that the problems are so ingrained, the only thing that I come up with other than what we’ve already said, is something that is very unsatisfying. And that’s patience. And that’s just that is to say that if you look out five years, it’s probably going to be the case, that it will be a routine thing for people to make sure they’re vaccinated for COVID-19. And that we probably have a number of people, that if we take a deep breath, and don’t look at them to scans, we’d say, okay, they have a process for making a decision like this. And then we have to respect that process. We have to respect that people are asking intelligent questions about the vaccine, because those are the questions that are right for them.

Andy Slavitt

And they’re not going to be motivated by something like herd immunity, they’re going to be motivated by what it takes for them to decide to put something in their own bodies. And then if we step back, respect that, do everything we can to get information to people so that they can learn about the vaccine from reliable sources, as opposed to some Joker on Facebook, then, you know, over time, this will happen. And that’s unsatisfying, because I think, you know, people could respond back and say, But wait, what about the variants? What about on people who have died? In the meantime, what about all the preventable deaths? And it’s frustrating. But the truth is that sometimes that patients that we don’t always want to have maybe the only thing we have to cling to.

David Axelrod  32:24

Yeah, I just, you know, I hope the interim is not too painful. And I do acknowledge, and we should acknowledge that there as you do. And that was a bit of wisdom. Actually, I guess people tune in for that.

Andy Slavitt 

My mom does.

David Axelrod 

Wow, your mom, is that right? I can certainly hear that. But I look, there are a lot. Yeah, I understand people’s hesitancy about, you know, new drug, you know, quickly manufactured under the supervision of the Trump administration, by the way, but now we’ve had hundreds and hundreds and, really hundreds of millions, probably billions of people around the world who have experienced this. And we have a lot of data. So you know, the evidence is pretty strong. And I just hope people become people who are not sort of being influenced by politics, but are genuinely concerned about the efficacy and the safety of this will, will come around.

Andy Slavitt 

Yeah, yeah. The one more thing before I move on is I think we also did set my standard. I hate this phrase when other people use it, but were to some extent they were a victim of our own success, and that we sort of robbed the urgency. It felt very urgent to get vaccinated when when we had a lot of deaths and hospitalizations. And now I think the people who weren’t vaccinated both, they’re on the bubble, by definition at the best. And they look around and say, and things look pretty good. So the urgency also isn’t there.

David Axelrod  34:01

Yeah, there’s also I mean, to be honest, I mean, there is an imperative in politics to want to claim progress when there’s progress. And you know, so I think there’s been this uneasy kind of dance that the President has had to do on the one hand claiming deserved credit for himself and the American people for the progress has been made. Well, at the same time, conveying a sense of urgency to those who haven’t participated. That’s a really hard thing to do side by side. You know, his July 4th statement was at once triumphant and urgent, and that’s a really hard thing to do.

Andy Slavitt 

That may not fly. We could say the words but you’re right. It may not fly. Let me tell you a couple  quick other paths here. The first one is how do you think all this plays in 2022 and 2024? What’s your political wisdom say about how the pandemic has been handled? Visa-V all the other issues that the public cares about? What will? What will it look like when it’s slightly more in the rearview mirror?

David Axelrod 

Well, that’s really interesting, because, you know, you’d think that the President would get credit. And it would redound to his benefit. Certainly, he ran on a pledge to, you know, wage war on the virus and bring us through, and, you know, you’d hope that he would get credit. But you know, this funny business, because once things are less urgent, and once they are in the rearview mirror, you don’t always get the credit that you think you’re going to get or that you think you deserve. You know, I think back to George H. W. Bush, remember his approval rating after the Gulf War was like, 90%. That was a couple of years before his real act, maybe less. And he ended up losing badly, because there were other factors that intruded the economy particularly.

David Axelrod  36:25

And so we don’t know what the situation is going to be in 2022. And it’s very hard to get credit for. It’s not hard, but it’s not automatic that you’re going to get the credit that you think you deserve for something like this. We also don’t know what you know what tails are vestiges there’ll be of this going on in their.. In 2022, I think there are historical forces at play and mechanical forces at play, that may be more important than how people feel about his handling of the virus or even the economy. And those have to do with redistricting in the census, which really put Republicans in a strong position to take the house in 2022. And the historical reality that like, you know, I forget how many 100-150 but I think maybe back to this, like now I forget that I got to find it. But it’s been like three times in the last gazillion elections, where the incumbent party has gained seats in a midterm election in the first midterm election. So you know, he’s flying into some heavy headwinds here, Democrats are flying into some heavy headwinds.

Andy Slavitt 

Yeah. And then things you say that leads are narrow. And you know, the environment changes in subtle ways. Maybe they’re not so subtle, but the things that you notice, certainly more in Washington, which is when one party has control of when I was all of a sudden there’s hearings, and there’s oversight, and you’re 30% of your energy that you spent, you know, fighting the virus you’d have spent fighting with Congress. So you know, so be it in the scheme of checks and balances.

David Axelrod  38:12

Yeah, I think Biden will have more momentum. If the economy continues to be strong. If jobs continue to grow. We just had a really big jobs report. And if he passes these two additional planks of his economic plan, you know, that will be I mean, that’s a really huge, huge historic set of accomplishments, and that will give him some momentum. But you know, he’s, if you were laying odds right now, you’d say the Republicans would, would take the house that the Senate is, you know, maybe a shade in favor of Democrats, but sort of a 50/50 proposition. And you know, so that should give Biden a sense of urgency that if he has big things he wants to get done, now’s the time. Because he may not have the opportunity after January 2023.

Andy Slavitt 

Now’s the time. How worried are you about voting rights in some of the states?

David Axelrod 

Well, I’m worried about it, but I’m less worried. I mean, I think Democrats suffer from sounding the kind of DEFCON one alarm on every aspect of this because some things are more egregious than others. I mean, I find it morally reprehensible that you can’t bring water to people on line in Georgia, I also have a lot of faith in the people of Georgia to bring water themselves now that they know that they’re not going to have water. On the other hand, if the legislature has the ability to override the results that are reported by local election officials or replace local election officials when they don’t like the results. Well, that’s like a missile headed right for the heart of democracy.

David Axelrod

So I think we you know, we still are gradations of things. You know, I think, you know, voter ID. We’ve heard a lot about voter ID. Most Americans support it. As it turns out, most African-Americans in polling support it, for reasons probably other than some other Americans, but they believe that if they have documentation, they can’t be messed with as readily. But, you know, I think we can overcome that. I mean, got to be rigorous, and you can’t let them play games with what kind of ID and so on, can be yet but, you know, I think that there’s a way you can organize around those things. But you know, there’s no doubt that these, they are not passing these regulations. In order to promote greater participation.

Andy Slavitt  40:44

It’s election integrity, that which are two words and really hard to say together.

David Axelrod 

I know. This is unbelievable. It’s like a compounding. It’s a compounding outrage. But first, you lie about the last election. And then you say, and because of this thing that I’m lying about, we have to do this. And now, you know, you hear people say me, Justice Alito, in his decision on the Arizona law said, Well, this will give people you know, this will help give people greater confidence in the system. Well, what is destroying their confidence in the system? It’s not actual acts of fraud. It’s people claiming fraud that doesn’t exist. So you know, so to use those claims of fraud, to say, so now we have to restore people’s confidence by taking by making it harder to vote is just, you know, it’s maddening. You know, I think it’s a worry, and I’m not gonna lie about that. But I think Democrats need to take it as a challenge, and use the outrage that people feel about the fraudulent nature of these laws, and the intent of these laws, to, to organize the hell out of the thing. And, you know, one thing is clear, they’re not going to get a lot of relief from the Supreme Court.

David Axelrod  42:03

I mean, they’ve made that very clear. So you got to fight it out in the legislature’s where you can, and then you got to fight it out in the precincts and organize. But, you know, I mean, it, I’ve got concerns that are this is just one small concern about my larger concerns about democracy itself. And, you know, we just very nearly reelected a president who is, I think it charitably a kind of crypto fascist, I mean, he, you know, he really doesn’t believe in rules, or laws or norms or institutions. He believes the world is the Hunger Games, and everybody, you know, you either kill or be killed, and you, anybody who adheres to rules of law, the rule of law, or any of these things, is a sucker. And that, you know, and you see what’s happening in some other places. I mean, you know, now you get, you put a quarter in, and you’re getting like 10 plays here. But Putin, and Trump are, you know, their worldview is very much alike. And the reason Trump was so convenient for Putin is because Putin’s mission is to say, everybody’s as bad as us.

David Axelrod 

There is no real legitimacy out there. And those people who assail me for putting my political opponents to death or putting them in jail or rigging elections and who, you know, get on me about this kleptocracy. They’re no better than us. So, you know, so forget about all that. I’m the guy who’s gonna stand up for Russia. I mean, Trump is basically singing from the same Handbook, and the fact that he has so many adherence is troubling to me.

Andy Slavitt 

That’s probably the best quarter ever spent my life.

David Axelrod

Well, you haven’t been spending them in the right places.

Andy Slavitt 

Well, maybe it’s just that at this particular point in time, this is where the dialogue is turning, you know, it’s no longer sufficient to talk about the narrow issue of can you vaccinate someone. It’s almost that we’re at a point where so many issues tripping existential issues, issues of our democracy, issues of how many of the cards are stacked up against us. And I wanted to close with just by asking you a couple questions on the personal side, and if they’re too personal, you don’t need to answer them. But I think it will really help. What’s your kind of everlasting image and emotion from the last year and a half of the pandemic? When you think about the pandemic, What does it fill you with? Like, what image comes to mind and what feeling comes to you?

David Axelrod  44:45

Well, you know, it’s a split screen, Andy, because this pandemic expose the great divides in our society, I’m lucky enough to be on one side of them. So for me, the pandemic was a different experience, because it was the experience that a lot of people who have done well financially have, you know, or their jobs allow them to sit in front of a computer screen, they never lose a paycheck, they never have to go out and risk themselves. And at the end of the year, their financial advisor says he had a great year, because the stock market was up. So I had a great year in the middle of one of the great human catastrophes in American history. So for me the opportunity to be under the same roof with my wife, and to you know, my son and ahis now wife came and spent six weeks with us and so on. Those experiences are seared in my mind. And it’s changed my view about sort of how I want to live the rest of my life, I realized what makes me most happy. On the other hand, you know, to sit home and comfort and watch this disaster unfold and watch the suffering and watch the hair heroism of people who don’t get the recognition they need, or the compensation they deserve. All of those things were striking and memorable too.

Andy Slavitt  46:19

So you felt some appreciation for it sounds like some of the things in your life that you get a chance to really feel and appreciate. And there’s absolutely no reason for anybody to feel the least bit bad about those things I’m talking about just to you, but to all of us, to myself to anybody, because you experienced some joy when people were in pain. But you also realized there was something very, very wrong with the situation. Because your experience was different from others.  You do have a I know you have a daughter that lives in a group home.

David Axelrod

She doesn’t, let me just be precise, because I know you have tremendous expertise in this area. She lives in a place called Misericordia. Misericordia has group homes. But they also have a spectrum of residential arrangements, some on a campus, some in the community, ranging from places for people who are have really profound disabilities, to people who have less profound disabilities through the whole spectrum of life, including nursing homes on this campus, and my daughter 20 or 19 years ago, moved to Missoula, Korea. And it’s been transformative for her because she was lonely. And she’s really, really happy. And she’s very busy. And she has a very full life. And so, you know, for me, and I wrote about this the other day in the New York Times, I’m just grateful she’s had that choice in that option, we have a crisis in this country right now, because there are 800,000 people waiting for a chance to live in a group home. And part of what the administration and Democrats in Congress are trying to do is make sure that that waiting list is pared down, and that there are opportunities for people to find those places, and that the direct care workers who work with them and work for that they get the compensation they deserve.

David Axelrod  48:20

My only point of that piece was we need to do better by people with intellectual disabilities all over the country, and provide high quality options for them, be it where we’re Lauren is living, or group homes. There’s a terrible history of institutionalization in this country, and there are still some bad larger settings, that should not they should either be improved or they should be closed. And there are group homes that, frankly, are good and group homes that are bad, we should have an array of high-quality options for people with disabilities and give them the dignity of choice.

Andy Slavitt

I couldn’t agree with you more. And for some people where possible, the home setting with support works, a community setting works and for some people a large setting in which you would you described as I just happen to know from being in Chicago is a wonderful place. Or at least everything I know about it and you obviously have firsthand experience.

David Axelrod  49:18

No, it truly is.

Andy Slavitt 

Did it add to the stress level with Lauren? Were you able to see her, did it make everything difficult to pandemic?

David Axelrod

Yes. Well, that was, you know, that we that was very hard because she we she was there and they were incredibly assiduous because they wanted to make sure that the virus did not overtake the campus there. So you know, they were very rigorous about contacts and so on. So for a while we couldn’t see her. For a while we could see her but only on campus in visits. She could come at any time she could have come home. This is  indicative of what I was. saying earlier, Andy, but they did not want anyone who went home to come back until after the virus was under control. Sure, because they didn’t want to take the risk of exposing others. And Lauren said, you know what, I would miss my friends. I don’t want to be away that long. And so we spoke, you know, we went FaceTime twice a day at the beginning of the day when she told us all the things she was going to do that day, and at the end of the day to tell us what she did, and they all got vaccinated in January or early February. And so now we’re back to she’s home right now.

Andy Slavitt  50:35

Oh, good. Well, I’m glad we’re finishing in a really affirming story. And, you know, I suspect we could do a whole another show about the disability community and about things when it came to sharper leave people who didn’t have it so fortunate as Lauren, certainly as well, in the context of the last year, and what we can and should be thinking about doing just count me as an as an ally. I don’t do enough to promote the thing you wrote about, but I encourage everyone, we’ll put a link to it. I encourage everybody to read what you wrote. And I think you’ve right talked beautifully about your daughter.

David Axelrod 

Thank you. And I’d love to offline, we should have a longer conversation about this. Because I know, first of all, I can’t leave without thanking you for your own service and your commitment to doing something larger than yourself. And you’ve you know; you’ve impacted on people’s lives in a positive way. And you answer the call in this crisis and your thoroughly admirable guy, and I you know, I appreciate that. So, let’s talk more about that sometime.

Andy Slavitt

Okay. Let’s do that. It’s a complete pleasure. I think a thrill for me and a thrill for the audience. More importantly, to get a chance to hear you. You’re truly one of the bright lights for so many people, have been for me.

David Axelrod 

Thanks, Andy. Appreciate it. We’ll talk to you soon, brother.

Andy Slavitt  52:15

Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed listening to David Axelrod’s tonight’s talk. I think it was a nice kind of tonic to the conversation that we had earlier in the week with Frank Luntz and provided some really interesting and needed perspective. More perspective will come next week. In week five of our IN THE BUBBLE – OUR SHOT, who we’re going to be talking about misinformation and disinformation. And you’re going to get to hear that from the number three executive at a place where quite frankly, there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation. That’s Facebook, Nick Clegg, who was the deputy prime minister, United Kingdom. Okay, then the following week, we’re going to talk about the global picture. And that’s going to be quite interesting, as well. So thank you all for tuning in. I’m going to go enjoy the rest of my week. I hope you do the same.


Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. Hope you rate us highly. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kryssy Pease and Alex McOwen produced the show. Our mix is by Ivan Kuraev. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs still rule our lives and executive produced the show. And our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, and additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter or at @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you like what you heard today, most importantly, please tell your friends to come listen and please stay safe, share some joy and we will get through this together.

Spoil Your Inbox

Pods, news, special deals… oh my.