Without question the most powerful and influential native Idahoan on the national political scene today is Bruce Reed. He currently is Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, was once the executive director of the Simpson/Bowles Commission charged with addressing America’s fiscal challenges, and headed up the Democratic Leadership Council which is where he first met President Bill Clinton.
President Clinton made him director of domestic policy and Reed became one of the President’s must trusted advisors. He also is facing what psychologists like to call a classic “approach/approach conflict.” More on that in a moment.
Besides being exceptionally bright, Reed is also a gifted writer and superb maker of memorable phrases. No doubt this is partly a function of his obtaining an M.A. in English Literature while attending Oxford on a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
Reed literally cut his teeth in politics on his mother’s knees as Mary Lou Reed served as a State Senator from Kootenai County for ten years. She is also a founding member of the Idaho Conservation League, which turns 40 this year. His father, Scott, is a distinguished lawyer who specializes in, among other subjects, water law. Scott’s only Idaho peer on this subject may be Twin Falls attorney John Rosholt.
Reed was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, graduating from Coeur d’Alene High School in 1978, and from there went to Princeton, where he graduated in 1982. Following the completion of his M.A. at Oxford he landed a job in 1985 as a speechwriter for future Vice President Al Gore, for whom he worked for four years.
He then took on the task of editing the magazine, The New Democrat, for the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization comprised primarily of centrists Democrats who quietly worked to reclaim their party from the more liberal elements that predominated in the 70’s and early 80’s. He became policy director of the DLC in 1990 and 1991 during Clinton’s chairmanship, then became the deputy campaign manager for the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992.
During his tenure as director of the Domestic Policy Council he helped write the 1996 Welfare Reform bill which he called “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.” He is the author of such memorable phrases as “end welfare as we know it” and “change you can, Xerox.”
In 2010 he took on the task of ramrodding the Simpson/Bowles Fiscal Reform Commission which many believe laid out the best path forward to ultimately balance the budget, reform entitlements and return the United States to fiscal sanity.
In January, 2011, he became the Vice President’s chief of staff, a post from which he wields enormous behind-the-scenes influence. In some respects Reed fits the mold of the classic “Shadow Shogun,” the power behind the throne in Japanese history. This is not a perfect parallel because no one would characterize Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden as figureheads.
Reed’s skill in fashioning speeches and authoring memorable phrases though gives the wordsmith unrivaled influence. His most recent buffo performance was the speech he wrote for President Clinton to deliver at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Universally acclaimed, many pundits felt it clinched President Barack Obama’s re-election.
So what’s the approach/approach conflict looming for the most influential Idahoan on the national scene? Reed has deep and abiding loyalty to the Clintons. His looming dilemma is he also admires and respects his current boss who has always wanted to be president. If, as many expect, Hillary runs for the presidency in 2016, most inside speculation is Biden will not give way.
Both will want the talented 53-year old Reed. Who does he choose? Undoubtedly, he and wife Bonnie (also from Coeur d’Alene) will cross that bridge when and if they come to it. Only they know.
Regardless, later this week Reed is speaking to the annual meeting of the Idaho Bar Association meeting in Coeur d’Alene. He may even be asked the question, but he learned long ago not to answer speculative questions. No doubt though he will provide insightful remarks and the Idaho Bar should be honored to have one of the most politically influential Idahoans ever addressing them.Share on Facebook