David Axelrod, the Democratic uber-strategist who engineered Barack Obama’s upset defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2008, advised Bill Clinton 12 years earlier on at least two major speeches, according to documents released Friday by the Clinton Library.
In August 1996, Axelrod sent a memo to Clinton aides with his thoughts on the president’s upcoming acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Rahm Emanuel, then a senior adviser to the Clinton White House, forwarded Axelrod’s memo to other senior aides, including Leon Panetta, George Stephanopoulos, Harold Ickes, and speechwriter Michael Waldman, telling his colleagues it was “worth your time.”
“Even though I’m sure you have more cooks hovering around the broth than you need, I wanted to briefly share a few thoughts and suggestions,” Axelrod wrote the night after Bob Dole accepted his nomination at the Republican National Convention, offering up chunks of text to be used in the speech.
Axelrod’s firm did not immediately respond to a request for more details about the nature of his work for Clinton, or whether he was paid.
First, he advised Clinton to take the high road in the speech, urging the president to praise Dole’s years of service to the country. Second, he suggested the president rebut Dole’s desire to connect with the American past by stating that he wants to “build a bridge to the future.”
The speech Clinton delivered a few days later hit both of these notes. “I believe that Bob Dole and Jack Kemp and Ross Perot love our country,” Clinton said when accepting the nomination. “I will not attack them personally, or permit others to do it in this party if I can prevent it.”
That led right into Clinton’s headline-making message of the night: “With all respect, we do not need to build a bridge to the past. We need to build a bridge to the future. And that is what I commit to you to do. So tonight, let us resolve to build that bridge to the 21st century.”
Axelrod also advised Clinton to use Dole’s personal story as a way to respond to the GOP nominee’s attacks on Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village. That doesn’t seem to have made it into the speech.
In a second set of memos, sent to Waldman in January 1997, days before Clinton would deliver his second inaugural, Axelrod offered some thoughts on drafts of the speech he had apparently been sent. It doesn’t appear that any of the language he offered made it into the speech directly.
“I hope it is, at least, a little useful,” the strategist wrote.
The documents were among thousands of pages made public Friday, part of a series of previously redacted files.