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Acting as part salesperson and part comedian, former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich spoke to an audience of about 350 at the Kennedy School's ARCO Forum last night.
Reich's appearance was the first stop on a tour to promote his new book, Locked in the Cabinet, a collection of Reich's experiences as a member of President Clinton's administration.
Reich, now a professor at Brandeis University, and former Senator Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), visiting Lombard lecturer at the Kennedy School, presented a light-hearted discussion which had the audience rolling with laughter for much of the one-and-a-half-hour talk.
"Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasiveness of life," said Simpson, who currently resides in Eliot House and was in the Senate from 1978 to 1996.
Both speakers discussed their political careers and the lessons they learned from first-hand contact with power and politics in Washington.
Reich said he decided to leave Washington the week before Clinton's re-election, because he wanted to be a "real father" to his two teenage sons, who reside in Cambridge.
Reich, a former faculty member of the Kennedy School, listed 10 lessons he learned from his years in Washington.
One of these lessons, he said, is that one should try to hire a staff that is composed of from diverse backgrounds who also are willing to provide constructive criticism.
He also said he has learned to separate his personal identity from that of his government position.
Reich also emphasized the importance of reaching out beyond the political world.
"At least two days a week, I got out of Washington to talk to the people in the stores, in the coal mines, in the businesses," he said.
From these interactions with "real" people, Reich said he has come to the conclusion that, although the economy is doing well, "people are working harder than ever."
Reich said although he liked his job, the intensity of his position prevented him from spending time with his family.
Yet, Reich said that not everyone can enjoy the luxury of changing jobs in order to spend more time with their family.
Simpson offered his own advice for aspiring politicians on life within the Beltway, as outlined in his recent book, Right in the Old Gazoo.
"Stay away from anyone who wants to keep score," said Simpson. "If you don't know who you are before you get to Washington, it is the worst place to find out."
Both former politicians agreed that humor and the ability to laugh at oneself are necessary for survival in Washington.
Many audience members said they enjoyed the speakers' light-hearted take on normally serious topics, and some expressed their disappointment that Reich and Simpson are not permanent members of the Kennedy School faculty.
"I was really impressed with Robert Reich," said Joe A. Ragazzo, a student at the school. "It is a real loss to the Kennedy School that a man of such great intellect, who presents a tremendously valuable perspective about [Washington] and the conditions which exist today, will not return to teach here."
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