David Axelrod in the Mile-High Hot Seat

ASPEN, Col. – I’m seeing David Axelrod speak here for the second time, and trying to get my hands around something intangible – the new feelings wealthy liberals have towards Barack Obama. They’re not thrilled. They’re optimists with little to be optimistic about.

At one afternoon session, Axelrod opened by reading the crowd quotes from Mitch McConnell, who admitted that he’d taken advantage of Democratic naivite and realized that denying them bipartisan cover for any bills would grind them down. This did not simmer things down. He got, by far, the toughest questions directed at a panel of Republicans and Democrats. After former Rep. Jane Harman seemed to belittle the impact of the Affordable Care Act – “we checked that box” – he took after her for not recognizing that Democrats had taken on one of the country’s biggest fiscal problems.

Most of the crowd was interested in asking about bipartisanship. The only really challenging question was about why President Obama was so hard, rhetorically, on “businesses and entrepreneurs.” That got a smattering of applause, and Axelrod struggled a bit to say to say that was to repeat “talking points.”

The second event is going a little better. His questioner, Joe Klein, started with a joke from Sarah Palin.

“How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?” he asked.

“At least write your own stuff,” said Axelrod.

Axelrod prepped the crowd with a reminder about Obama: “Part of what he said was that change was not gonna be easy. Change was gonna be hard.” There were no early meetings in 2008 at which Team Obama decided that “he first three things we want to do are a $787 billion recovery act, shoring up the financial industry, and shoring up the auto industry. This was what we were called on to do.”

Klein tried to express how the crowd felt, despite its mien.

“You’re not looking at Tea Party Nation,” he said.

“It’s pomegrenate juice,” said Axelrod. (Pom Wonderful bottles are basically everywhere on site.)

But Klein’s point was that the crowd was annoyed that the administration was doing things and not talking about them. Why didn’t voters speak of the tax cuts they’d gotten?

“Here’s the reality of life in America in 2011,” said Axelrod. “Federal taxes have gone down. State and local taxes have gone up. People don’t say ‘I’m feeling burdened, but thank God for that tax cut.’ That’s not how people think.” 

So Klein reframed that question from the angry businessman. OK, so Wall Street didn’t like the way Obama talked. But given how much they’d failed, why not go harder on them?

“If you think we’re being too soft on them,” said Axelrod, “then sit on our side and watch the furious lobbying campaign going on that’s trying to unravel financial reform.”

The first question came from Jason Pollock, who promised to work for Barack Obama’s re-election, but wondered if Axelrod had seen the movie Inside Job. He had. So why’d Obama appoint the people who, according to the movie, participated in the disaster?

“It was a very effective movie,” he said, “but it was edited from a point of view. There are pushbacks against it.”

UPDATE: The only sugar tossed at the audience came after Axelrod was asked who he wants to run against.

“Right now, you have a Tea Party primary and a Martini Party primary,” he said. “You could see a scenario where Bachmann wins Iowa and Romney wins New Hampshire and they have a protracted battle.”