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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 9:31 pm | Fair 55º


Susan Estrich: Iran May Not Be Trustworthy, but U.S. Diplomat Wendy Sherman Is

I don’t know enough about a lot of things to know if the deal with Iran is good enough, to know whether Iran will keep to it, to know whether it endangers Israel, to know just about anything except that I can tell when people on TV are working off the same sets of talking points.

In campaigns, we always say that you can’t predict all the crises a new administration will face, so you have to look at the character of the individual or individuals who will be making the life and death decisions in the future — based on information you and I won’t have.

I may not know much about Iran, but I know Wendy Sherman, and I don’t know too many people as extraordinary as she is.

Back in the 1980s; before she spent decades at the State Department with Warren Christopher and later as Madeleine Albright’s counselor; before she was dealing with North Korea and taking heat for it; back when she was she was a top Senate aide, a feminist mover and shaker around town, Wendy, among her many campaign jobs, ran the soft money in the ’88 campaign.

You have to be a real oldster in this post-Citizens United world to remember how tricky it used to be to siphon unrestricted donations into a publicly funded (and expenditure-limited) campaign.

Every four years, the top election lawyers on both sides would devise new ways to turn the campaign finance rules into Swiss cheese, and the popular route in those days involved party-organized “Victory Committees,” running money through certain state parties and various other little tricks that actually seemed fairly aggressive at the time even if they look positively tame now.

On the other side, you had everybody and his brother and sister-in-law coming to you for money, everybody you owed or would someday owe in politics telling you that the only way to avoid a landslide in (fill in one of many blanks) was to get some money from the Victory Fund into particular races.

Sometimes they were wrong and sometimes they were right, and every interaction was a negotiation that would be held up and compared (and complained about) by almost every recipient — one of those critically important jobs that is almost entirely thankless, where no one will remember when you’re right but, boy, will they be quick to blame you when you’re wrong.

So you need someone who is obviously smart and has excellent judgment and can deal with any kind of pressure, including rude and overbearing men (yes, we had some, just a few, in those days); someone who keeps her cool when, with apologies, all the men around her are losing it and blaming it on her.

Someone like Wendy, if there were someone else quite like Wendy.

There’s one more skill Wendy needed in those days, one that has served her well since. She was constantly making decisions on the fly, figuring out how far we could or couldn’t go. I was the lawyer. She was the moral compass.

Wendy Sherman has as much plain old-fashioned integrity as anyone I have met. Her commitment to public service, not just public service but service to the United States of America, is not something she crows about. It’s just who she is.

Her critics today will be all over the North Korea deal; I’m seeing the same quotes and criticisms everywhere, so the talking points have clearly been prepared. She was not the negotiator of the Clinton 1994 “freeze agreement” but it was her job to sell the plan and she did, and she doesn’t back away from it.

“During the Clinton administration, not one ounce of plutonium was added to the North Korean stockpile,” Wendy says.

She also insists — rightly, it seems to me — that Iran and North Korea present vastly different challenges.

I met some amazing people in politics who went on to do some pretty amazing things. Wendy stands out, and not just for her wonderful white hair. She is exceptionally devoted to our country and possesses a strong sense of honor.

Given the need to trust someone in debates like these, I can think of no one more deserving.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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