The Axe Files with David Axelrod
David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, brings you The Axe Files, a series of revealing interviews with key figures in the political world. Go beyond the soundbites and get to know some of the most interesting players in politics.
Rep. Jackie Speier got her start in politics working for Rep. Leo Ryan, then a California state Assemblyman. But what started as a high school assignment ended on an airstrip in Guyana, where Rep. Ryan was killed, and Rep. Speier was shot five times ahead of the Jonestown Massacre. She has since dedicated her life to public service, making a mark when she became the first US Representative to speak about her own abortion on the House floor in 2011. Rep. Speier joined David to talk about her blue-collar upbringing, her experience in Jonestown and its lingering ramifications, abortion rights, gun violence, her concerns for the future of Congress—and what gives her hope.
May 19, 2022
Growing up, Shaka Senghor wanted to be a doctor. But at age 14, he ran away from his unstable home. By 19, he was in prison. While in prison, he began unravelling his past, seeking to understand how he went from a bright young boy to solitary confinement. Shaka joined David to talk about the overwhelming challenges facing young people in neighborhoods like the one he grew up in, the seduction of drug culture, the injustices of the criminal justice system, being a father, and his new book, “Letters to the Sons of Society.”
May 12, 2022
Al Franken has been in the public eye for decades, first as a comedian and then as a senator from Minnesota. Since he resigned from the Senate in 2018 amid sexual harassment allegations—that he has denied—he has mostly stayed out of the spotlight. He talks to David about his transition from comedy to politics, his departure from the Senate and his subsequent battle with depression, whether he might run for office again, and his touring comedy show, “The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour.”
May 5, 2022
As a high school student in Montana, Ambassador Michael McFaul became interested in Russian affairs while working on a debate team assignment concerning trade sanctions on the Soviet Union. He first visited the Soviet Union in college and went on to serve as US Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. Ambassador McFaul joined David to talk about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s paranoia over the expansion of democracy around the world, the rise of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, what he sees as potential outcomes for the war in Ukraine, and how Putin’s attempts to tighten his grip on power may actually accelerate the unraveling of his leadership.
Apr 28, 2022
Inspired by the stacks of books in her parents’ home, Republican strategist Sarah Longwell once thought she might become a poet. But at Kenyon College, she found herself more captivated by political science than writing. Sarah joined David to talk about coming out as gay in a very conservative professional environment, her work to keep Donald Trump from winning in 2020, the struggle to separate true conservatism from the current culture wars, why she believes Joe Biden shouldn’t run for reelection, and what happens if Trump wins in 2024.
Apr 21, 2022
Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa faces 100 years in prison stemming from what she says are illegitimate charges, but that hasn’t stopped her mission of exposing political malfeasance and lies in her home country of the Philippines. She joined David to talk about immigrating to the US as a child and later returning to the Philippines where she built a career, technology’s corrosive impact on journalism and democracy, founding Rappler and finding herself a government target, and maintaining hope as she fights corruption and disinformation through her journalism.
Apr 14, 2022
This week’s episode comes from a conversation at the Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy Conference, co-hosted by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and The Atlantic. Journalist Anne Applebaum joined David on stage to talk about how globalization has turbocharged the spread of disinformation, how the Russian disinformation campaign in Ukraine failed, how we lost touch with the truth, and what happened when she found herself at the center of a disinformation campaign.
Apr 7, 2022
Growing up, GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio spent time helping out at his grandfather’s produce stand in Brooklyn, selling everything from watermelons to Christmas trees. While he was always interested in politics, fostered by an early fascination with Richard Nixon, the idea of politics as a career didn’t take shape for Tony until he moved to Long Island at age 12. Tony joined David to talk about how he got his start in political polling, the story behind the infamous Willie Horton ad, working with Donald Trump on his presidential campaigns, Trump’s 2024 prospects, and getting kicked out of the Young Republicans.
Mar 31, 2022
Growing up the child of Eastern European and German immigrants, former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch strived to fit in. Learning to navigate other cultures ultimately proved useful during her 33 years in the Foreign Service. In 2019, her diplomatic career ended after a months-long smear campaign led to her recall from Ukraine by then-President Trump. She joined David to talk about lessons learned from her parents, the on-going Russian invasion of Ukraine, her take on Putin’s mindset, what it was like being attacked by a sitting president and her new book, “Lessons from the Edge.”
Mar 24, 2022
CNN anchor Erin Burnett grew up on a farm in a small town in eastern Maryland, but her career has taken her around the world, covering major events from the Arab Spring in Cairo to the Bataclan shooting in Paris. She talked with David about how a letter to a stranger helped her get her start in journalism, her relationship with former President Trump, joining CNN at an unpropitious time, and her recent reporting from Ukraine.
Mar 17, 2022