Oct. 18, 1996
TIME Insider Advises to be Amused by Politics
by Ellie Walradth
UW-RF News Bureau
A senior political correspondent for TIME magazine encouraged an audience at UW-River Falls to take time to enjoy democracy.
About 100 people attended a speech by Jeffrey Birnbaum, who reports on national politics focusing on lobbying, the White House and the presidential campaign. Birnbaum's reporting has been recognized nationally, and his insights into Congress and the White House have been translated into best-selling books.
"Don't get completely taken over by partisanship; take time to enjoy it. Have fun with politics," Birnbaum urged.
Birnbaum attended this year's Republican, Democrat and Reform parties' political conventions, along with other campaign events.
"I see a lot of people's points of view; I just step back and describe them as I see them."
Birnbaum stressed that the actual process of politics means more than who wins and who loses.
"In a democracy, the government is only as good as the vigilance of the voters. But, more important than voting is paying attention to the process of politics to make our democracy work."
In his humorous tone, Birnbaum compared politics to sports, noting that they are both full of inevitable surprises.
"Politicians are not always who they seem to be," Birnbaum said.
While covering Congress as a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Birnbaum recalled observing Sen. Bob Dole "conduct the Senate as if it were a symphony."
Birnbaum said that Dole acted as the "king in Congress" that night as he led the Senate to pass a deficit reducing tax bill.
"It is disappointing that people don't see this side of Dole," Birnbaum said. Birnbaum also expressed his opinion of Ross Perot.
"If you think Perot is a monomaniacal, slightly-crazy person, I am here to tell you you are not completely wrong."
Birnbaum said that Perot is running his campaign almost completely on taxpayers' money because he qualifies for federal campaign money.
"By doing this, Perot has proved himself to be another politician," Birnbaum said.
On the other hand, Birnbaum believes Perot has inspired many good changes in Washington.
Because Perot did not participate in the presidential debates, Birnbaum believes Perot has opened the door for future third party involvement.
He said that the White House is not the well-managed institution that most people imagine. "It's a place that's constantly beset by crisis upon crisis."
Birnbaum told stories about the early days of President Clinton's administration when Clinton was not the "campaigning juggernaut" he now appears to be.
"The best the White House can do is create the illusion of being in control, and they have done this," Birnbaum said.
The early days of the Clinton White House are the focus of Birnbaum's latest book, "Madhouse: The Private Turmoil of Working for the President," in which he details the experiences of six senior staffers.
In addition to his recent book, Birnbaum co-authored "Showdown at Gucci Gulch" in 1987 and wrote "The Lobbyists," a Washington Post bestseller in 1992.
Also in 1992, Birnbaum was named White House Correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and two years later won the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award for excellence in feature writing about the Presidency.
Birnbaum graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with bachelor of arts in journalism and has held positions at the Wall Street Journal in Philadelphia, the Associated Press and the Miami Herald.