“Government jobs offer young people an unparalleled way to create policy,” Former White House LGBTQ Liaison and Adviser to the Biden Foundation Gautam Raghavan said at an event Tuesday hosted by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service.
The event discussed “West Wingers: Stories from the Dream Chasers, Change Makers, and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House,” a book edited by Raghavan and published in September, which includes narratives from members of former President Barack Obama’s White House staff.
The event, part of the Institute’s literary discussion series, featured contributors to the book, including Former Director of the Domestic Policy Council and Vice President of New America Cecilia Muñoz, Former White House Liaison to the Creative Community and Managing Director of Funny or Die D.C. Brad Jenkins and Former National Security Council Spokesman and Director of Policy and Communications at National Security Action Ned Price. Jennie Fay, director of fellows and career programming at GU Politics, moderated the event.
Government jobs provide a large sphere of potential influence, Raghavan said, and he encouraged Georgetown students to explore government work.
“The work you can do in government is unlike anything else,” Raghavan said. “Nothing else compares to the sheer scope and reach of what government can do.”
Raghavan, who served as the Department of Defense outreach lead, noted the potential in government jobs to craft tangible policy on a range of issues.
“The agencies are actually where most of the work actually happens,” Raghavan said. “They touch every single issue from sexual assault to ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’”
The passion of his coworkers at the Department of Defense made his experience with the organization rewarding and impactful, Raghavan said.
“The year I got to spend on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was amazing,” Raghavan said. “The people I found there were phenomenal, and very mission focused and cared deeply about the issues.”
Jenkins emphasized the role young voters can have in swaying the results of the upcoming Nov. 6 midterm elections.
“If 70 percent of millennials voted, this country would fundamentally change overnight,” Jenkins said. “If young people don’t vote, 92 percent of incumbents stay in office.”
A willingness to try new things and work diligently earned him his White House tenure, according to Price.
“Never turn down an opportunity,” Price said. “Frankly it’s how I ended up in the White House. I just kept saying ‘yes.’”
The Obama administration’s success in 2008 and again in 2012 reflects how politics can influence generations, Jenkins said.
“[Obama] is a once in a generation candidate,” Jenkins said. “It was very empowering for a whole generation. I think we seized the moment.”
Obama’s character of personal accountability while in office guided the president’s interactions with the public, Price said, citing a 2015 incident in which two hostages were killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
“The world of intelligence is very murky,” Price said. “There’s a lot that can stay secret. […] But, the course [Obama] chose instinctually was to own up to families and to the American people.”
Muñoz initially turned down the job offer as director of the Domestic Policy Council, as she wanted to ensure a work-life balance with her kids. She eventually accepted the position, on condition that she would be able to maintain a balance between her career and her role as a mother, she said.
“I said no [to the job] twice because I really didn’t want to turn my kids’ lives upside-down. Fortunately, I managed to persuade the people I worked for, mostly men, that it would be okay,” Muñoz said. “So I walked out of there at 5:45 to pick up the kids at day-care, and nobody batted an eye. I did what probably all of us with kids do, which is after they’re in bed, then you go back to work.”
He also grappled with the conflict between his personal life and his political career, Raghavan said.
“You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once,” Raghavan said.
As a woman of color, Muñoz faced pressure to prove herself throughout her career in a male-dominated sector, she said.
“The notion of out-work, out-prepare, be on top of your game, especially for a woman of color, is just plain true,” Muñoz said.
Students can to look to their peers as mentors and as people who will help them succeed later in life, Jenkins said.
“The people to your left and right, your peers, can potentially have a lot more impact,” Jenkins said. “You don’t need a really esteemed powerful person to give you a leg up. Your leg-up is right in this room.”