OCTOBER 17, 2019
58 Minutes and 39 Seconds
What role do moral values play in sensitive negotiations? How can vision and authentic leadership create positive change for the public good? Listen to this Wiener Conference Call with Ambassador Wendy Sherman, director of the Center for Public Leadership at HKS, as she draws from her experience in the federal government, where she served as lead negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal, and from her time as a social worker and advocate for women. Ambassador Sherman answers callers’ questions and discusses her book, Not for the Faint of Heart.
Wiener Conference Calls recognize Malcolm Wiener’s role in proposing and supporting this series as well as the Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.
Good day everyone. I am Mari Megias, assistant director of communications for Alumni Relations and Resource Development at Harvard Kennedy School, and I’m delighted to welcome you to this first Wiener Conference call for the 2019– 2020 academic year. Today we are joined by Ambassador Wendy Sherman, who is the director of the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership as well as professor of the practice of public leadership. Ambassador Sherman served as undersecretary of state for political affairs, the fourth ranking official in the US Department of State, from 2011 to 2015. During the Clinton administration, she was a special advisor to the president and to the secretary of state, as well as the North Korea policy coordinator. Notably, she also served as the lead negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal. Formerly, she has worked as a social worker, as the director of Maryland’s Office of Child Welfare, as the founding president of the Fannie Mae Foundation, and as a director of Emily’s List. We are so fortunate that she has chosen to share her expertise today with the Kennedy School’s alumni and friends. Ambassador Sherman.
It’s great to be with you, Mari. It’s great to be with all the alumni that are on the line today. And I thank you all for calling in. You’re an important network for Harvard Kennedy School. And we really value your participation and all that you bring in advice and counsel to all of us. I wanted to start my few minutes of conversation. And I don’t want to talk very long, because I’d much rather have a conversation with you all, then just babble on. But I want to start with a real testimony to Congressman Elijah Cummings, who passed away overnight. I’m from Baltimore and I’ve had the privilege and honor of knowing Congressman Cummings for a long time. And he chaired the Democratic Platform Committee during this last round in 2016. And I was on that Platform Committee and he was just such a demonstration of moral leadership, of principles, effective public leadership, what we try to teach the students at the Kennedy School.
And he took me back to the first chapter of the book that I wrote, Leadership Is Not For The Faint of Heart, because that first chapter is about courage. And there’s no one that I can think of who had greater courage than Elijah Cummings, who came from parents who were sharecroppers to becoming a member of Congress and someone who worked across the aisle, trying to be really bipartisan, he even spent some time with President Trump who went on to criticize him and criticize Baltimore. But originally they began to work on trying to lower prescription drug prices together, something of great concern to the congressman, that first story in my book about courage and how making change and being a leader requires courage, really, as a complement to all of the incredible things being said about Congressman Cummings today.
And it really began with my parents. My dad had a residential real estate business in Baltimore. We are American Jews and my parents attended services and Rabbi Mark Lieberman, at the time in the early 60s, had just been arrested two weeks earlier for trying to integrate an amusement park just outside of Baltimore. And he thought he owed his congregation explanation about why he was arrested. And he talked about how he had been a chaplain during World War II and he’d been at the liberation of Dachau. And he wondered at the time what ministers and priests had preached to their congregations as Jews and homosexuals and gypsies were being carted away to concentration camps, and he thought for himself in this time in Baltimore, in the 60s, his job was to end the discrimination and degradation of African Americans in the city of Baltimore, which was still quite segregated at that time.
My parents were very moved by the sermon and my dad went to see Rabbi Lieberman a few days later and said, “What can I do?” And he said, “You’re more powerful than any minister or priest or rabbi, you could advertise your houses, to anybody who wanted to buy them.” There were no open housing laws in those days. And my father said, “Well, if I do that, I’ll be run out of town.” And Lieberman said as rabbis and ministers and priests are wont to say, “Well, you asked me what you could do. This is what you can do.” And my parents talked about it and decided that was what they would do. And I was a teenager at the time, and within six months, my father’s business lost 60 percent of his listings. By the end of the 60s, his business had closed. We had people who called into our house and said they were going to bomb our house. They were going to move African Americans in next door and show us what was really life was like, but my parents never ever doubted the choices they made. They understood that to get real change always comes at a cost. And you have to be willing to pay the price and Congressman Elijah Cummings was willing to do that. He stood on the streets of Baltimore after Freddie Gray was killed in a police altercation, and stood with a bullhorn between those who were protesting and the police and officials in opposition and tried to bring everybody together. His whole life was about principles of effective leadership, which is what we try to teach at the Kennedy School, what the Center for Public Leadership is all about, and why my husband and I decided to upend our lives in Washington after more than 25 years and move to Cambridge, because we are currently at a deficit in the world for principles, effective leaders, not just in our own country but around the world, people are very anxious right now. They’re anxious about the changes in technology and trade. They’re anxious about very rapid changing social change. I talked about that 55-year-old white guy who lives in Michigan, and I love white guys. I have been married to one for more than 40 years. But who feels like he lost his manufacturing job, he has to take a computer coding course after two years, he’ll make half of what he earned. He has to put two kids through college, his health care costs have gone up, the people down the street, he’s always been nice to, now can get married and he just really doesn’t understand that. The people who are moving into his neighborhood go to the mosque, not his church, or they’re brown and don’t speak just English. They may speak Spanish as well, and he feels like he’s lost his power. And he’s looking for certainty and he’s looking for security, and that his power is not all gone.
And leaders, not only here but around the world, can react to that either out of fear and rage or out of hope. And what we’re trying to do is to encourage students to lead in nonprofit, even in business, in public service, for public good, and to go for hope and change, not for fear and rage.
It was also important for me to come to do this because one of the things that I talk about a lot in my book and have been very much part of in my life has breaking those glass ceilings. I was lucky to serve Madeleine Albright, who was the first female secretary of state. I ran the Senate campaign for Barbara Mikulski when she became the first Democratic senator to be elected in her own right to the Democratic Senate. I was executive director of Emily’s List to try to get more women into public office. I got to serve Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, and the first woman to be the standard bearer for the Democratic Party going into a general election. So, breaking glass ceilings is really important to me.
I really want to talk with you all in conversation about all the things that are going on in the world. I talked in the book about the importance of understanding and really effectively using power, about letting go when you can’t control things, about building your team, which nobody in this world makes change all by themselves, the persistence that’s needed, particularly in difficult times, and the great moments of success. You all have been successful, you’ve graduated from the Kennedy School, from our sisters schools, and you’re doing great things in the world.
I welcome your thoughts, your ideas, and your conversation about what’s going on in our country, what’s going on around the world. And I’m happy to answer questions about all of them. Thank you.
Q: What are the similarities or differences in the best practices of negotiating from your time as a women’s advocate and then with government? What basic tips apply both sides of world?
Interesting. When I was doing negotiations as a diplomat, my good friend, former boss, business partner, Madeleine Albright, said to me that she learned this most of all when she was the ambassador to the UN, and she sat behind a sign that said, the United States of America, that when we are indeed diplomatic roles, we are not Wendy Sherman or a woman or whatever our heritage is or our religion. We are the United States of America. And that is an incredibly powerful role. And I say whatever we do in life, to really embrace all the power that comes with that role, whether it’s the role as a parent, which comes with power that can abused but you must use to help your children grow up in this world. Whether you are the head of a nonprofit organization, you have to be a leader, but you have to welcome and embrace your team because you cannot achieve the objectives of that nonprofit or of that university without the team that supports you.
If you are negotiating, I say every parent knows how to negotiate if you have a two year old or a teenager, because you’ve got to learn that skill set. And they often challenge us mightily. The skill set is the same but one thing I think is incredibly important. One thing we really try to teach here, is there are really three different models of negotiating, win-lose, which is a very transactional approach, which is I think what the president of the United States does most often. Win-win where it’s still pretty transactional, but you hope both sides get something out of it. And then there’s what’s called 3D negotiation, which was really created by folks here at the Kennedy School and at the Business School and the Law School, which is to understand the whole landscape and all of the stakeholders that are involved, all the interests that are on the table, and to make sure that you understand those interests, not just the positions of everybody, and try to achieve your objectives and get to an outcome where everybody’s interests are respected, but that you still try to reach your overall objective.
Q: My question and comment to you, ma’am is this Dietrich Bonhoeffer a former pastor who perished in the Second World War, when speaking truth to power, moral courage is extremely complex and nuanced. And when one is grounded within our human frailty, we are constantly being bombarded with doubt and self doubt. To me, what is for you the most important element because as Martha Nussbaum said in her book Fear, and I don’t have it with me, it’s extremely emotive, but how does one calibrate that in a form of rational reasons, logic without resorting to pure exhortation. And I thank you.
Thank you for your very thoughtful and scholarly based question, it’s really impressive. This is a difficult question, It can’t just be about exhorting people to do things, it has to be about taking actual actions to make change. A lot of people say, “What can we do? What can we do?” Wring their hands, but in fact, it means actually acting. If you believe strongly in something, it means registering to vote and getting out to vote, organizing your community to make your voice heard. One of my new colleagues at the Center for Public Leadership is Arthur Brooks, who headed up the American Enterprise Institute. There are public policy issues on which he and I would probably take a different approach. But nonetheless, he recently wrote a book called Love Your Enemy. Which I subscribe to what he talked about in that book is that our real problem with our disagreements with each other is when we have contempt for each other. Because when you have contempt for each other, you don’t even listen, you don’t even hear. You don’t respect that someone might have a different point of view and you cannot find common ground and come to a solution. I think it’s incumbent on all of us to try to remove our sense of contempt. Now there are of course, people who are truly hateful and truly violent. And I’m not suggesting that we embrace people who encourage and incite violence. But I am encouraging each of us to try to remove contempt from our approach to other people and to really listen to other people’s perspectives. But your question is a difficult one and philosophers have helped us to struggle with that difficult question.
Q: What principles or criteria can an ambassador use to draw a line between advancing the policies of the incumbent president and fulfilling that oath to the Constitution?
Well, in some ways, , that’s a setup question. Because I don’t think it is a shock to anybody on this line, that I’m not a political supporter of the president. But I do support the presidency. And I do support the Office of the President. And I do support the constitutional responsibilities of the Office of the President and the constitutional responsibilities of each of us as citizens because our Constitution is for the people, by the people, of the people. So, it is about our responsibilities as well. So, I hope that wherever we can, we work together. And indeed, it’s interesting around criminal justice reform. All of the parties, including the president, the Democrats, the Republicans, independents, even those that are named socialist in our government, in the Congress, came together to take a first step on criminal justice reform. That’s a very important issue, one that one of my other new colleagues, Cornell Brooks, who heads up the Trotter Initiative at the Center for Public Leadership, is leading the charge on trying to really give our students field experience. We’ve got 16 students who are now working with four organizations around the country to have real field experience in creating change, taking that citizen responsibility for social justice. I think it is critical upon each of us in wherever we are, whatever we do to be true to our Constitution. I currently think the president is overstepping his prerogative. But we have a process going on in the Congress to test that out and decide whether in fact he has.
Q: How would you apply the lessons you’ve learned in your negotiating career to addressing climate change?
Very interesting. When the Democratic debate happened the other night, there was not one question on climate change, which was actually sort of shocking. The candidates raised the issue themselves in the context of other issues. But when I talked to Kennedy School students here I would say it’s probably the number one issue among the graduate students here because students see that everything is going to be affected by climate change. I have one student who came to me yesterday who was really distraught over what he sees and wonders how he can affect any of this and I really encouraged him to take it one step at a time, that no one of us can save this situation alone. I think he felt a great burden to be able to fix this problem. He understood that most wars in the future will be fought over the scarcity of water. It will be fought over people migrating because of climate because they can no longer live or survive in the places that are affected by climate change either because water has overtaken their houses are because the weather has gotten so dramatic in one way or the other that they have to leave their homes and that’s going to create conflict. Terrible national security challenge as well as an economic challenge. But it is also, as I said to this young man, it’s also an economic opportunity because we can create whole new industries that will create whole new jobs, markets, and product markets. For Americans, we’ve always been a country of innovation and technology.
And we should keep going to work on these very tough issues. I know the crowd on the phones, a little shy to ask questions, but I hope you’ll not only put forward questions you have, but comments, you want to make about any of these questions as well.
Q: Can you candidly offer any advice to young women about what it takes to succeed and what challenges they’ll have to tackle especially in roles in foreign policy in the federal government?
Things have changed a little bit. There’s really a phenomenal field team in national security. Young women who have come through the ranks. By the time John Kerry had left as secretary of state all of the regional assistant secretaries except one were women. And all of the undersecretaries except one were women. There has been a market change. It’s still tough. And I outline lot of my own lessons in the book, one of the big ones is make sure to have a support group wherever you are, so that you can check with other women about whether you’re crazy, or whether what you need to do is the right thing.
It’s interesting, I was at an alumni event in London, and was making remarks and then taking questions and answers. And as happens most of the times when I speak in co-ed audiences, the first three questions were from men. And I say at that point, I’m not going to take any more questions unless some of these smart women raise their hand. And I was talking to the women afterwards about why they didn’t raise their hand. And they said that they think they have to construct the perfect question in their head, before they raised their hands. And I said, Do what the guys do! Raise your hand. And you’ll think of something smart to ask. They have no idea what they’re going to ask when they raise their hands so just raise your hand. And they all promised they would do that from then on. There was a Hewlett Packard study that says that when women apply for jobs, they think they have to have all of the requirements to apply. When men apply for jobs, they figure they have to have 60 percent of the requirements. And so I said to women as well, You should apply if you have 60 percent and then do what the guys do. Either make the job just about that 60 percent or learn the rest of the 40 percent on the job. I think we have to help each other out, support each other, validate our concerns, back each other up, and keep going and know sometimes we’ve all been called every name there is for tough, assertive. I won’t use other words. And we need to know that you just have to keep going sometimes.
Q: I’m interested in hearing about your negotiations in Iran. I’m very concerned that we’ve withdrawn from the agreement. And I’m interested in your view of what we should do next.
Thank you very much. It’s very interesting that you asked me this today because I got a call this morning from a U.S. senator asking the same question. Where are we and what can we do now? And I quite agree with you. I’m very sorry that we withdrew, I think it has put our country at risk. I think the president’s decision about giving everyone the green light to go into Syria, really gave Iran greater strength in the Middle East. The malign behavior that we’ve all been worried about has increased risk to Israel, has gone up even more. If I were in a position to tell the president or encourage the president to take action, I would tell him to reenter the negotiations, to reenter saying that we need to have a follow on arms control agreement to the joint conference of plan of action. I would tell him that we need to negotiate probably in a prisoner exchange to get Americans who were held in prison, and who have been missing in Iran for many years now, Robert Levinson back to the United States, that we should be able to negotiate about the behavior and Iran’s position in the region and their state sponsorship of terrorism and their human rights abuses. I think there’s a lot of work to be done. I do still see foreign ministers they come to the United States and I did see him in New York a few days ago at the UN General Assembly. I tell them to stay in the deal, to stop doing the terrible things they do, to let Americans out of prison. I’m a patriotic American but he related at the meeting, which was then related in the press by others, not by me, that President Trump has been trying very hard to have a conversation with President Rohani. That he, in fact, had tried to have a phone call with him during the UN General Assembly. But President Rohani having watched the president have photo opportunities with Kim Jong-un of North Korea and not getting anywhere insisted that the president lift some of the sanctions before the phone call happened and the president wouldn’t do that. And so the phone call evaporated. If we had real diplomacy going on, you could figure out how you could orchestrate a number of steps on each side to meet each other’s interests and begin a real negotiation but neither photo ops nor phones are going to solve this problem.
Q: I’m class of 98. I’m currently vice president of strategic initiatives at CVS. And one of the things I’ve been watching as an amateur, interested person in all things, foreign affairs, is the decimation or the sidelining of the career foreign service staff in the United States. It seems to me like we’re creating a real talent deficit, or at least there’s been a real brain drain that’s really affecting the potential future quality of our diplomatic efforts. I think there’s no greater illustration of how bad it’s fallen, how badly it’s fallen, the letter that was released yesterday showing how the president was communicating with the president of Turkey. And it was very clear there was no expert process around vetting and screening and developing that communication. I guess where this leads, and I’ll apologize for having this question only 60 percent formulated before I decided to ask, is what concrete or specific recommendations would you have Ambassador Sherman, to the next administration around what they should do to restore the capabilities of the State Department? What steps should they take?
Thank you. One, first of all, as somebody who I think helps to keep CVS on John F. Kennedy street afloat. And I want to thank CVS for taking leadership around some key public health issues. I think it’s hard for businesses to do this. It’s really leading in business for public good, it’s probably good business for CVS over the long haul. But it also takes courage to really make your business about public service until I think CVS are that public leadership. I would urge you and everybody on this line to read the piece written by Bill Burns, Ambassador Bill Burns, former deputy secretary of state, in Foreign Affairs that was just published called the Demolition of Diplomacy. Bill Burns was in the foreign service for over 30 years. He was the undersecretary for political affairs right before I was, I consider him incredibly valued colleague of mine and thanked him the other day for writing this piece because he is a very, he’s a great diplomat. He is a very careful, thoughtful person about the use of his words and for him to make such a clear indictment of what’s happened at the State Department is not what he usually does. He’s very thoughtful, very bipartisan, very nonpartisan, has been all his life and has served many presidents, was our ambassador in Russia, ambassador in Jordan. He’s been all over the world, an extraordinary man, and actually led to the secret negotiations with Iran, the bilateral channel that we had. And I would say that if I were the secretary of State tomorrow, I would call back and there is a process to call back the senior foreign service who were pushed out, first by Secretary Tillerson and now by Secretary Pompeo, and hope that we could get some of that talent back in the State Department. I would hold a town hall at the State Department to talk about how we were going to proceed forward and how we’re going to try to rebuild the institution. I certainly wouldn’t call for a 39 percent cut in the budget of the State Department, which President Trump has done on a regular basis. Fortunately, the U.S. Congress, on a bipartisan basis, has not agreed to those budget cuts. Very grateful for congressional bipartisan leadership on understanding that foreign assistance is in the U.S. national security interest to spend some money abroad. It’s not about helping the other countries. It’s about helping us and our national security interest. I think one would have to go to work very quickly. It will take a lot of time to repair this damage.
The number of applications to become foreign service officers has gone way down. The number of civil servants who have left or been pushed out is also quite high. So, there’s a lot of work to do and I asked you, thank you for asking the question quite critical.
Q: I’m a graduate of the Kennedy School, also a lawyer, currently, and I have a little bit about, what you do on the difficult days? I think a lot of the issues that we are dealing with are hard enough, even when you are considering the best sensible advice and you have he clearest version of the facts that you can gather. And obviously the administration really is doing those things. And so I know that my for myself and other peers we’re still absolutely committed to cleaning up those things that have been broken further and a lifetime of service, whether that’s based in public and private sectors are moving between them. And I just wonder if there are particular tips or things that have been helpful to you on those difficult days when, the country loses a figure of monumental importance, and they’re just trying to reset and find the light and courage to go on, given the difficulty of the long-term view.
That’s a really profound and important question. Thank you for asking it. When I came in this morning, I asked our team we have as video board outside the Center for Public Leadership. And I asked them to put up a memorial to Congressman Cummings, principled effective leader. The best way to honor a leader like Congressman Cummings is to honor his purpose. He went through a lot of hard time, and he persevered as his wife, Maya, who I think will probably take his seat, said he worked to the very last moment. He at first tried to work with the president and then the president said horrible things about Baltimore. Not that my hometown doesn’t have challenges it does. But there are people who are working hard every day to meet those challenges. And as I said, you want leaders who believe in the hope of that, not just the fear and the rage that comes when things go bad.
The best thing we can do is what you’re doing, which is to take every day and try to serve that purpose as a principled, effective public leader. And I say two other things. Come back and visit the Kennedy School and meet with some of these students. They are like you were when you were here. They are filled with energy and enthusiasm and purpose, and work and wanting to make the world better. It’s part of the reason I came here, was to get out of Washington and give myself a mental health break. From the constant conversation, it’s so difficult every single day. And the other thing I would say is, I came up political age in the 60s. In the late 60s, when we had the Vietnam War and our country was torn apart. When students were killed on the campus of Kent State, when there were five assassinations, John Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and of course, Martin Luther King. When there were bombs in townhouses by the Weathermen in New York City, it was a violent, horrible time in our country. Not only did we come through it, but we got the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, the women’s movement, the end of the Vietnam War, and an entire generation of activists, people in my generation, who believe that this was part of our purpose in life, was to bring change. And I hope that’s true, and believe it’s true of this generation. Having faced a crucible, if we can come together and come through it, we will be stronger, we’ll re-affirm our democracy and we will come out a stronger people, but it’s tough. There’s more wine drinking and beer drinking in Washington than there’s ever been. I think that’s true in a lot of homes. And I hope we just turn to each other, back each other up and take each day as it comes and try to do something of purpose.
Q: I’m an alumnus from 1982. And we overlapped a little bit, I spent a dozen years at OMB International Affairs Division when you were in the Clinton administration. I do have a lot of interest in what has happened with the public perception of the world called 150 function and foreign affairs and battle has been fought for 30, 40 years trying to explain know what small percentage that really is in the budget compared to what people see but my other question is, I have a young college-age daughter who’s planning to going international affairs career and I’m interested in the focus question of ethics, and the moral concerns both among the career service, the foreign service and civil service, but also in the general public perception of ethics and self dealing itself and self interest of the perception of government service and not amongst us because we, who Kennedy school grads obviously have our own perspectives we brought to this in our careers. I mean to the general public, I think the notion of government 40, 50 years ago was very different than it is today in terms of its legitimacy. And what practical things would you say from your career, including dealing with issues of conflicts of interest that ethics could happen that might help move the ball on this a little bit? Thank you very much.
Sure, thank you very much, and thank you for your service to our country and for what you do at OMB. And I point you I’m sure you’re well aware of USGLC, the United States, a Global Leadership Council, that Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright co-chair. And there are many other nonpartisan, bipartisan leaders of that trying to ensure that the 150 budget stays robust and maybe even grows a little bit. It’s a great bipartisan organization. I think ethics are critical for what we teach here. I think that we probably even do more these days given very difficult choices and decisions that people have to make. Because we live in a Twitter and social media world. We live in a world where there’s all kinds of media saying all kinds of things. We actually need to begin civic education in our elementary schools. When I grew up, there was civic education, it doesn’t exist anymore. I think every community should insist upon it. Kids learn what the Constitution is, what a fact is, what an opinion is. What a conspiracy is, what a conspiracy isn’t. And I think that we have some basic education of who we are what a democracy is, that has to begin very early in life, so that we respect each other’s views. We understand there’s a multiplicity of views. But there’s a bedrock set of values and ethics embedded in our Constitution, that we all have to live up to as citizens, not as a Democrat or Republican or as an independent, but as a citizen. And I think that’s very important for us to teach it all ages, and certainly here at the Kennedy School, obviously, who our leaders are is important whether you supported President Obama or not. It was a pretty eight years of scandal free. I think that President Obama understood as the first African American President, he had to be very conscious of ethics and standards, very conscious and I think that standard should be the standard no matter whether you’re African American or Caucasian or Latino or anything else. I think you’ve asked a really important question. I hope in the education your daughter’s having ethics is very much a part of that education as it is here at the Kennedy School. I think we are doing more and more of it and should.
Q: Hi, I was a mid career in 2000 and have stayed involved in alumni activities over the years. And you’ve touched on my question quite a bit in your recent answers. But I’d like to go back to your story about your father and how taking a moral stand really affected his business. And it seems to me that at the Kennedy School we talk a lot about leadership. We talk a lot about team building, we talk less about supporting other leaders and people who really take risks in their own lives. And I’m wondering just in general terms about the moral need to support others who are taking stands on things that we find important and how much the Kennedy School is really emphasizing that kind of skill.
Thank you for the question. And thank you for your past presidency of the Alumni Board, a different kind, but very important kind of service, not only to the School, but to the community at large. So, thank you for that. A couple of things happened out of my dad’s story that are important. He closed his business because of his stand when Jim Rouse the famous developer built the city of Columbia, in Maryland, which was to be a model of integration and community. He asked my father to be the vice president for sales and marketing because of what he had done, and so he got great support because of what my father had done. He was asked by the Orioles, who were then a winning baseball team, to find a house for a player who was coming to the Baltimore Orioles by the name of Frank Robinson. And my father, the first time could only find a house for him and Ashburton, which was an upscale African American neighborhood. And Frank Robinson, who was coming from California, wanted an integrated neighborhood because he wanted his kids to have a role model and he want to have a safe community and to have good schools. Then Robinson became the MVP, and Cashin called him, called my dad from the Orioles spring training in Florida, and said, “Robinson has said he will not come back to the Orioles unless you find him a house in an integrated neighborhood.” And so my dad went back to work, found someone who was willing to sell, actually rent, got to close the deal by getting every family in the neighborhood, because he went to every house to make sure they would support it. And it wouldn’t be blockbusting in other words, really turning over the entire neighborhood. Really keep an integrated neighborhood by giving them signed baseballs and bats. And even so the guy who rented the house to Robinson, upped the rent from $300 to $500 a month. Nonetheless, good things came out of it. And I think the best thing that came out of it, was the example and he said for me and my family, the example he and my mother set for my daughter, who is her own advocate now, teaching immigration law at Boston University and helping to run the immigrant rights and human trafficking clinic and taking her law students to the border and really being a strong advocate on these issues. We are passing it forward, it’s important to what we do. I think it is being that model, being that example, helping people understand there is an upside to the loss that you incur.
When I was negotiating with Iran, I said something that was wrong when I was asked by a Senate committee about Iran and I said something like deception is in their DNA. And Iranian Americans understandably objected because they thought I was painting with a broad brush and I was very sorry for what I had said. I really was just responding to the senator and not thinking about the broader community. And so I created and I got cartoons and the Iranian press of me being a fox up in a tree and had people on the streets of Tehran with protests death to Wendy Sherman, which scared the dickens out of my family. But I got tremendous support from Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry, from my colleagues, from the American public during that time.
And I got to have this enormous privilege of being part of this extraordinary negotiating team, led by the president of the United States, to try to better secure America’s security and the world security. We need to tell the whole story, not just the loss, and we need to support each other through difficult times, just as caller asked earlier, about how we help each other through these difficult days. But thank you for asking the question.
Q: Hi, class of 1981. And I was a sailor in the Vietnam War during the ‘66 to ‘70. And a few other things, I missed a lot of the things that were happening because it happened while on ship, and otherwise those things happen. Two quick things about what you should teach at high school. By one class I had to take was by Mr FarMarcus, and it was called Problems of Democracy. And we said, “Well, what does that mean?” He said, “Well, I want to teach you first of all, how to fill out a tax return, how to read a newspaper, how to read a contract, how to read laws or understand the laws of your own profession so that you know more than the lawyer that’s representing you.” And well, because you can get a new lawyer and he says, “I don’t know squat about what this is, but you do because you do mechanic’s liens and you do these other things. You need to know plumbing law and you need to know construction law and you need to know other kinds of laws and things like that.” It was interesting, he says, especially learning how to fill out a tax return and how to buy insurance. He said because if you have a bad relationship with the federal government, because the first time you make money, you don’t fill out a tax return or they send you a note you have a trouble with taxes for the rest of your life. He says we don’t need a bad start to your life or how to misinterpret newspapers. Or of how to misinterpret a contract and feel bad about it. Because you’re going to have a problem with that for the rest of your life, learn now, what those things stand for, and then make the better. That being said. That’s the way things should be taught. In law school, my insurance professor says, “One of the things that we have such a problem with is that we cannot say the word I’m sorry.” Because he says, “As soon as you say the word I’m sorry, you admit liability somehow or other?” If there’s a car crash and somebody runs into you, tips your car over, and you get out of the car and go over and say, gee, I’m sorry, this accident happened. They go, Aha. And as soon as the police arrive, we say he said I’m sorry.
I appreciate all that you’re saying. And I thank you for your service as a sailor, thank you for your sharing with us, how you got taught principles of democracy sounds like a really good course. I want to make sure that other callers can get in as well. Is there a question or a final comment you’d like to make before we get to the next caller, but I greatly appreciate that we were teaching principles of democracy in every high school.
Q: I am in Texas. Mid-career graduate ’86. And I’m working with nonprofits on government’s strategic program planning and partnerships and collaboration. And as I might have thought, Ambassador Sherman, I am learning a lot from you this morning. And one being talking about your being a native of Baltimore, having goodwill and a close relationship with Representative Cummings, who I knew for a time during some of my career in the Washington DC area, and I also read that you have a background or started your career in child welfare, which I was surprised to learn, I also have had some work in that arena. And certainly it’s one that is not so well respected, certainly not funded in general across the country with the best needs that are present in that arena. And my question is twofold. Actually, I want to refer back to a question a few questioners ago, and I don’t know, the Constitution or statutory regulations regarding assignment of ambassadors. But I’m wondering if one of the things that might be done in terms of reforms might be that our ambassadors do have to have some relationship to foreign affairs, governmental affairs or something and not just be the high-profile donors to our presidents once they get elected. If that’s something that could be a reform that could be codified by Congress. And then my second question relates to the transition that you made from being a child welfare professional, into politics and even more recently, international affairs and foreign affairs, that whole arena and what lessons you may have, again for women, as we’re breaking down feelings, of having the capacity and courage to make transitions in a totally different arena in terms of career. I thank you for your observations and response to those.
Thank you very much, and thank you for your work with nonprofits. Let me do the last part first, and then I’ll talk about the ambassadors. I have a master’s in social work and community organizing and clinical skills. And I have joked that those clinical skills have come in very handy with dictators and members of Congress. And those clinical skills have served me well in whatever I’ve done. But as a community organizer, I learned to understand what objective a community was trying to reach, whether that was community was a geographic community or community of interest or community of adversary. What’s the stakeholder map look like? Who all the parties were. What the politics were, what the power structure was, how to get from point A to point B to point Z. And I’ve taken that skill set with me, from child welfare, into politics, into international security. My caseload has just changed but the skill set I have used everywhere I’ve gone and what I say to students here is, get a skill set. And then I wish you an unexpected life, because my life certainly has been. I’ve been willing to take risks, to try new things if an opportunity presented itself. I was not looking to come to the Harvard Kennedy School. It came and asked me if I would come in interview and my husband and I decided, “Oh, let’s give it a whirl. And we had the extra added incentive that our daughter and grandchildren were here.” We did and we took that next chapter in our lives, but it’s because I taken a skill set that I’ve built over time, which has included learning, how to manage and work with teams and people, which is part of social work skills as well. Everywhere I’ve gone, I would say to women and young men also get yourself a skill set, for some people that will be law, for some people that will be business. For some people that will be public policy or social work. But you can take that skill set many, many places. In terms of the assignment of ambassadors think it’s a great idea. There has traditionally been a split about 25 percent or 30 percent political and 70 percent, 75 percent foreign service. That is completely broken down under President Trump. Many more political appointees, sometimes political appointees would be people like me, who I was a political appointee as the undersecretary who have had many years of experience in national security and foreign policy. But sometimes in the case of ambassador, those are political appointees. Or people who have been very successful, major donors. Sometimes they come with experience in that international community, in that world. I think President Trump believes that Rex Tillerson, who had been head of Exxon Mobil, had a personal relationship with Putin and would be an effective secretary of state. Unfortunately, as Secretary Tillerson himself, who was recently here at the Kennedy School, we relate he tried to adopt the way he had run Exxon Mobil with the State Department. And it just didn’t work. Because it’s quite a different animal with a very different purpose and a very different bottom line. I think your idea that we look at how we name ambassadors, that if they are political, they have to come with some experience or relevance to the job they’re going to take is a very, very good one. And I suspect that the next president will have to take a look at that very issue.
Great. Well, thank you very much. And thank you to all of our callers today and a special thank you to Ambassador Sherman for joining us today.