President Bill Clinton’s White House came straight out of the ’90s hit series “West Wing,” according to his domestic policy advisor Bruce Reed. Twenty years later, as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Reed said the job still resembles the television show but “nobody is as funny and nobody is as good looking.”
At a lecture hosted by St. Anthony’s Hall on Friday afternoon, Reed offered his own insights regarding the current state of affairs in Washington before roughly 90 students. Taking attendees through his career from his start as a speechwriter to his current position as chief of staff, Reed gave an insider’s view of gridlock politics on Capitol Hill.
“It can’t go on this way forever,” he said. “We’re ready for the fever to break. The good thing about politics is that sooner or later, Americans get the change they want.”
Describing himself as the “rarest of political fossils: a Democrat from Idaho,” Reed started his career as a speechwriter for then-Sen. Al Gore in the late ’80s. He became addicted to the adrenaline of the campaign cycle, he said, despite an unbreakable losing streak — he worked on 14 consecutive losing campaigns.
But Reed said those losses taught him more than any single victory could.
“You learn so much from losing,” Reed said. “The lessons stick with you longer. I encourage you to go out and fail at something. It’s a much more valuable learning experience.”
Reed described how Clinton was a night owl prone to push deadlines and have fun around the office, while Obama takes a much more disciplined, businesslike approach. Reed and Biden, his current boss, make an “odd couple” because Biden is a constitutional scholar while Reed is an “LSAT dropout,” he said.
Today’s political climate in Washington makes working across party lines increasingly more difficult, Reed said, adding that nationwide trust in the government is at an all-time low. But change is on the horizon, he noted.
Reed emphasized the responsibility his generation faces to ensure a safer future for the younger population. From environmental reform to economic growth, the older generation has a moral obligation not to leave behind “a social fabric coming apart at the seams,” he said.
The younger generation has three advantages — young people comprise the most tolerant generation to date, they think differently than those in other age brackets and they are coming of age at a time when the nation faces real problems that will force leaders to find the best solutions possible, Reed said.
Reed told audience members not to confuse ambition with purpose because ambition can lead to great progress but “you can’t lead and you can’t be happy without being grounded in a purpose.”
Audience members said they appreciated the chance to hear from a White House insider rather than a face on a television newscast.
Eric Stern ’15 said he found Reed’s optimistic outlook admirable.
“This is what a career in politics is like,” he said. “Politics shouldn’t be a dirty, but a virtuous career.”
Anna Lu ’17 said though many say the younger generation has little trust in the government, she appreciated the opportunity to hear from someone working within the system.
Reed became Biden’s chief of staff in 2011.