Senior Fellow NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
Robert M. Shrum is a Senior Fellow and Clinical Professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Previously he was a strategist and consultant, serving as senior advisor to the Kerry campaign in 2004 and the Gore campaign in 2000. The Atlantic Monthly described him as "the most sought-after consultant in the Democratic Party." Mr. Shrum was speechwriter for Senator George McGovern in his 1972 presidential campaign; press secretary for Senator Edward M. Kennedy from 1980 to 1984; and speechwriter for Senator Kennedy during and after the 1980 presidential campaign. He was the media advisor and strategist for thirty-one successful Senate campaigns, ten successful campaigns for Governor, and for successful campaigns for Mayor in major American cities. As a journalist, Mr. Shrum´s work has appeared in New York Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The New Republic, among other publications. He has been a columnist for Slate and writes a regular column for theweek.com. Mr. Shrum´s national bestseller, No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner, was published in June 2007 by Simon and Schuster.
What does "Dialogue" mean to you? The capacity which often seems to be lost in the increasing cacophony of American politics, to listen to other points of view, and respond in a way that enlarges and moves the discussion on. That’s what I prize most about the La Pietra Dialogues. People with differing views, in different parties, from different places sit together in the city that invented the Renaissance and at the best moments think anew and open a way for decision makers to act anew.
How are European and American politics similar and different? The biggest difference – at least in some European countries – is the lesser role of paid television advertising that has given centralized party structures more influence and tighter control. But that is breaking down with because of the impact of the current economic crisis and because social media are creating new and more engaging ways to communicate and mobilize. A fundamental similarity, and this is fundamental, is that message matters. The narrative that a candidate or party adopts has to meet voters where they are, dealing with their top of mind concerns, rather than trying to tell them that an election is about something other than that.
Which European politician has impressed you the most? Why? Gordon Brown. He is a rare combination of high intelligence and deep principle with a nearly matchless command of the substance of public policy. At the same time, he is one of the greatest political strategists I’ve ever met. He was the key strategist in the Labor Party’s victories from 1997 – 2005. And while he lost in 2010 – although he came closer than anyone predicted – as Prime Minister in 2008 and 2009 he played a central and indispensable role in preventing a global economic recession from becoming a second Great Depression.
What have you taken away from your experience at La Pietra? Great insights, great friendships, and great memories.