In an event sponsored by the Harvard Bookstore, former National Public Radio host Christopher Lydon grilled Albright and Rubin on their tenures, setting the evening’s critical tone by asking the former Clinton cabinet members how to get the government back on track.
“This is a very unusual doubleheader from a time when we all lived in a normal America,” Lydon said. “Tell us how good it was and how to get back to where we were.”
The two were on hand to sign copies of their books, Madam Secretary: A Memoir and In an Uncertain World and Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington, both released last fall.
Rubin joined Clinton’s Economic Council in 1993 and was sworn in as Secretary of the Treasury in 1995. Now the chairman of Citigroup, he returned to the private sector and serves as a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers.
Albright, who emigrated to America at age eight from the former Czechoslovakia, first served as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations before she became Secretary of State in 1997, making her the highest ranked female in the history of American government.
Only a week before the Iowa Caucus, neither Albright nor Rubin chose to endorse any of the Democratic primary candidates, but instead detailed the failures of the current administration and the successes of their own.
Rubin attacked Bush’s economic policy, saying despite the present upswing, long term tax cuts would send the deficit soaring.
“We are on the wrong track in every part of U.S. economic policy,” he said. “There is a high probability for a type of crisis we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Having orchestrated U.S. support to crisis economies such as Mexico, Thailand and Russia during his tenure, Rubin said that good fiscal policy depended on “calculated risks” and “fiscal responsibility,” neither of which the current administration has demonstrated.
Albright criticized Bush for acting unilaterally in Iraq.
While citing herself as an “activist” administrator, she said that in calculating any move the government must always play their diplomatic cards first.
“If the U.S. doesn’t do something things don’t happen, but that doesn’t mean that you do it alone,” she said.
Albright added that terrorism cannot be combated alone and since Bush has “squandered our surplus of good will” abroad, tracking terrorist networks and funds will become increasingly difficult.
In addition to policy issues, both speakers ruminated on the fate of the Democratic Party and status of national leadership.
In response to a question about the balance of power in Washington, Rubin commented that liberals cannot compete with the neo-conservative think tanks and the disciplined infrastructure of Washington conservatives.