Robert Shrum, a veteran political consultant with experience guiding presidential, senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns, will join the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences as holder of the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics on June 1.
Established by USC Honorary Trustee Carmen Warschaw ’39, a philanthropist and community activist who died in November 2012, and her husband, Louis, who died in 2001, the chair seeks to create civically minded students.
In his role as Warschaw Chair, Shrum will connect students with elected officials, candidates and their staffs from across the political spectrum to discuss and analyze relevant issues. He will also develop courses and conferences meant to encourage students to engage in politics.
Shrum, the first named chair in USC Dornsife’s Department of Political Science, believes those who participate in politics can make lasting, positive change.
“Though some may disagree, politics is an honorable profession,” he said. “It’s not only fascinating, but it has an incredible impact on all our lives.
“I believe that most of the people whom I have met in politics, on both sides of the partisan divide, are there out of conviction,” he added. “The majority of them have a real sense of belief in public policy and what they want to accomplish.”
One would be hard-pressed to name a political scholar and consultant with more influence, experience and understanding of the American political landscape over the past several decades than Shrum, according to USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett.
“Through his appointment as the inaugural Warshaw Chair in Practical Politics, USC students will benefit from Professor Shrum’s engaging firsthand accounts of history and his enthusiasm for active participation in the democratic process,” she said.
USC Dornsife Dean Steve A. Kay believes Shrum’s addition will further solidify USC Dornsife’s push to empower students to find real-world applications for their academic classwork.
“I think that we have one of the strongest political science departments in the country. But I also think our students need the tools to translate theory into action,” Kay said. “I believe Bob Shrum’s political experience and connections will serve to inspire students and to invigorate the department. I could not imagine anyone better to fill the Warschaw Chair and provide national recognition for our student programs in practical politics.”
Shrum’s career in politics began in the 1970s when he was hired as speechwriter for then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay. He went on to serve as speechwriter for Sen. George McGovern in his 1972 campaign for president. From 1980 to 1984, Shrum served as speechwriter and press secretary to Sen. Edward Kennedy.
He was a senior adviser to Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 and to John Kerry’s campaign four years later. He was a consultant to the successful campaign of Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel in 1999; to the British Labour Party in its 2001 and 2005 parliamentary campaigns; and to winning national campaigns in Ireland in 1997 and 2002.
In the past four decades, Shrum has navigated 30 winning campaigns for U.S. Senate and eight winning campaigns for governor. He has advised campaigns for the mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, Dade County and San Francisco, as well as for the Speaker and the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.
A frequent commentator on politics on national television, Shrum’s articles have appeared in New York Magazine, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Newsweek, The Huffington Post and Time. He has written columns for Slate and The Daily Beast.
Shrum’s own civic participation began at 9 years old when he volunteered at the Culver City Democratic Headquarters making phone calls in support of 1952 presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. Though Dwight D. Eisenhower beat Stevenson by a landslide, Shrum said Stevenson’s concession speech left an indelible mark on him.
“Stevenson’s concession speech deepened my nascent appreciation for the power of words. I can still hear him quoting Abraham Lincoln’s line: ‘It hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry,’ ” Shrum wrote in his memoir No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner.
Nearly 30 years later, Shrum became part of another memorable moment when he helped pen the concession speech Sen. Kennedy delivered at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. Many said the powerful speech overshadowed Jimmy Carter’s acceptance of the presidential nomination.
“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die,” Kennedy’s speech famously concluded.
Shrum hopes to inspire students by making politics come to life. He can give them an insider’s view.
“The capacity to understand politics depends on sound theory, but that understanding can be immensely enhanced by a vivid sense of the way politics actually works,” Shrum said.
He also wants to share the many ways students can participate in the political process without running for office.
“You can be involved at a civic level, you can care about issues, you can contribute to campaigns,” Shrum said. “As a volunteer, you can have a big impact. I think we all have to be public citizens to make this country work.”
Since retiring from political consulting nine years ago, Shrum has been a senior fellow and clinical professor at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, where he taught graduate-level courses in policy formation and analysis.
At USC Dornsife, Shrum’s class topics will likely include “great races,” looking at campaigns from City Hall to the White House. He will focus on the interrelationship between politics and policy in areas such as health care reform, for example.
He is also looking forward to creating programs that will illuminate how politics takes place on the ground.
“Los Angeles is a magnet for political figures, and my hope is that we can do a series of close-up conversations with really interesting people when they come to town,” Shrum said.
He’s already thinking about potential speakers: Joel Benenson, President Barack Obama’s chief pollster and a senior political strategist in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and Steve Schmidt, senior strategist and adviser for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Shrum called it a singular honor to receive an appointment named for Carmen Warschaw, a formidable political force, and her husband, Louis. A former member of the Democratic National Committee, Carmen helped to forge the California Democratic Party and the careers of many of its leaders.
“Carmen was a great progressive Democrat,” Shrum said. “She really cared about her beliefs. She fought tenaciously. And in terms of practical politics, she was the best.”