We may soon find out. As Bill Clinton's choice for Secretary of Labor, Reich has achieved Cabinet status. But even without portfolio he would be one of the the most powerful people in town and, therefore, the world. Reich, perhaps more than any other contemporary philosophe, has exercised a profound influence on Elvis II's thinking since 1968, when the two young Rhodes scholars were sailing to England. Bob got seasick, Bill fetched chicken soup for him, and the two became fast friends. They've yakked about what ails this country ever since.
Reich never really stops yakking. For months, this non-economist has been holding forth on TV gabrests with affable authority on every domestic policy question imaginable except advertising. This makes him characteristic of the Clinton team, for better or worse.
So far, there isn't a sworn enemy of the industry in the entire lot. Then again, if the rest of the gang is anything like Reich, they could surprise. Author Mickey Kaus, who worked with Reich at the FTC, characterizes him as a "policy hustler" prone to unexamined policy prescriptions, the implications of which Reich refuses to address. He also is possessed of "breathtaking overconfidence," Kaus says, and is not above "disingenuosness, even demagoguery."
How Reich ended up at Labor is anybody's guess, but the appointment was a relief to ad industry lobbyists. The last thing they wanted was a loose cannon heading the National Economic Council or Commerce, Treasury, the FTC or the Council of Economic Advisors. In fact, the Clinton team, on advertising issues anyway, looks remarkably benign. The appointments of Lloyd Bentsen at Treasury, Leon Panetta at the Office of Management and Budget, and Bob Rubin at the NEC have all been well received by the business community.
Advertisers are especially pleased by the elevation of Bentsen, who is generally viewed as a friend of the industry. And his departure as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee will hardly be felt, since it opens the job for Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Stylistically, the two could not be more different, though Moynihan is, if anything, even friendlier to the industry. He is philosophically disposed to advertising's needs. And he has scads of advertisers and agencies among his New York constituents.
Bentsen's replacement by Moynihan also sums up the presidential appointments. Whether intentional or not--and there is no evidence Clinton or his economic seers have given much thought to advertising issues-- the new team looks unlikely to back efforts to reduce the deductibility of advertising, as some of the more zealous House members will no doubt propose. The appointees' lack of enthusiasm for such initiatives is for pragmatic reasons, if no others. Back at the FTC, Reich opposed Pertschuk's efforts to regulate children's advertising, mainly because he did not want the agency squandering valuable political capital on what he felt was a futile crusade.
This much is certain. The ad industry already has dodged one bullet. Lawrence H. Summers, chief economist at the World Bank and a whiz kid who is said to be closer to Hillary Clinton than to Bill, was thought to have the inside track to chair the Council of Economic Advisors. But the post went to Laura D'Andrea Tyson, a Berkeley prof more interested in trade issues than domestic economics. Five years ago in The New Republic, Summers endorsed reducing the deductibility of advertising of all kinds. "What little effect advertising has in increasing total spending is probably not desirable," he wrote in an article that proposed requiring companies to amortize 60% of their advertising outlays over four years. That alone, he theorized, would raise $10 billion a year.
It was not his proposals regarding advertising that knocked Summers out of contention for the CEA job, but his environmental beliefs, which were reportedly unacceptable to Vice President Al Gore. There is no doubt a lesson here, but it's hard to say exactly what that is. Maybe something about spotted owls coming to Madison Avenue's rescue. The only thing for certain is that Mother Nature has her reasons, and if She didn't want Lawrence Summers landing the highest economic job in the land, Her wishes are to be respected. And, if you're an adman, applauded.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)