Writings and observations

When friends compete

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There’s an old political saying that when asked to choose between two good friends running for the same office, the answer is, “I’m with my friend.” That means you’re not about to choose, nor are you going to say who you might opt for in the privacy of the balloting booth.

One might even contribute the same amount of money to each campaign. Such a stance risks the loss of both because they’d rather that you choose, but the smart and prudent person stays neutral.

If Bruce Reed is anything, he is smart and prudent. The Coeur d’Alene native and 1978 Coeur d’Alene High graduate went onto Princeton, graduating with honors in 1982, thence onto Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, and obtained an MA in English Literature. Despite being a rather quiet and unassuming person his classmates could tell he was destined for good things.

A family friend, Tony Stewart, a professor at North Idaho College for many years, and a co-founder along with Bruce’s parents, attorney Scott Reed and State Senator Mary Lou Reed, of north Idaho’s Human Rights Foundation, would play tennis with the younger Reed. If Stewart was the least bit late he would find Reed patiently waiting but also always reading a book.

Early in his public career Reed encountered presidential politics as his services were sought by two young and intelligent senators, Tennessee’s Al Gore and Delaware’s Joe Biden. Reed had gone to work for Gore as a speechwriter in 1985.

As the 1988 election drew closer Biden asked Reed to work for his 1988 presidential bid. Reed was astute enough to ask Gore whether he planned to run. When told by Gore that he was going to run Reed politely declined Biden’s offer without burning any bridges and did work on Gore’s 1988 campaign.

In an amicable parting he left Gore in 1989 to work for the Democratic Leadership Group in 1990, where his talents and ability soon caught the eye of young Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. He joined Clinton’s successful campaign for the presidency in 1992 and when Clinton won Reed went to work first as a deputy domestic policy advisor, and two years later as the chief domestic policy advisor.

His relationship with both Clinton and Gore remained strong and in 2000 he left the White House for two months to help Gore with his debate preparation. Despite being close to the seat of power one seldom saw Reed quoted. He preferred to remain in the background and did not play the game of being a “high placed source” for the media.

When 2008 rolled around Reed’s loyalty to the Clintons’ trumped all others and he supported Hillary’s bid for the presidency. Once elected president, Illinois Senator Barack Obama let bygones be bygones and named Reed to be the executive director of the Simpson/Bowles Commission, a group of distinguished elected officials as well as private sector folks charged with restoring fiscal sanity to a budget process gone awry and with curbing excessive federal spending.

Reed, by all accounts, did a masterful job of helping hammer out a decent, doable set of compromises that could, if adopted by Congress, have met the challenge the commission was given. Following this Reed accepted an invitation from old friend Joe Biden, now Obama’s vice president, to become Biden’s chief of staff, which he did for two years.

Reed has many talents, one of which is to look down the road and over the horizon. It is fair to speculate that unlike many in the political game Reed saw the real possibility of being caught in the middle between friends with Mrs. Clinton again making a bid and his friend and current employer, the vice president, also deciding to run.

Reed’s answer, like the old political saying, is not to choose between friends. On November 13th, 2013, he announced he and his equally talented wife, Bonnie (Also a Coeur d’Alene High graduate), were leaving the nation’s capitol for Santa Monica where he would be the president of the Ely and Edythe Broad Foundation whose primary purpose is to facilitate meaningful reform in public education.

It was a wise move by a loyal soldier. My personal preference would have been for him to leave his job with Biden to run for the Democratic presidential nomination himself. At 55 years of age he’s at the right age to take on the rigors of the office. It’s time for the baby boomer generation to step aside and pass the torch to the next generation. Mrs. Clinton, Jim Webb, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden – all will be in their 70’s should they take the oath in Janaury of 2017. Candidly, that’s just too damn old.

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