John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Sylvia Mathews and the Future of Europe

Posted on April 11, 2014
Sylvia Mathews Burwell at April 2013 Senate nomination hearing

Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Politico reports:  “On a trip to England during the Clinton administration, Sylvia Mathews Burwell accidentally ran a half marathon. Out for a bit of exercise during an otherwise jam-packed trip, Burwell got hopelessly lost. Desperate to get back in time for a meeting, she just kept running until she found her way. She wound up logging 13 miles.”

I didn’t run with Sylvia Mathews that day, but I was on that trip with her.

We were at a conference called “The Future of Europe,” and the American delegation was sponsored by the American Council of Young Political Leaders.  She was representing the Clinton Administration as a relatively new staffer for the National Economic Council.  I was a speechwriter in House Minority Leader Bob Michel’s office.

We were both young, in our mid-twenties.  She was the star of the show, being a Harvard graduate and a hard-charging staff member on the hard-charging Bob Rubin staff.   I represented the loyal opposition, the guy who didn’t go to Harvard.

You could tell that Sylvia was very, very smart, and very well organized.

It was an interesting conference.  The Russians were there, as were the Macedonians.  I remember especially the discussion with the Macedonians.  They had just established their independence from a dissolving Yugoslavia and they were in a pissing match with the Greeks about their name.  The Greeks didn’t like Macedonia to be called Macedonia, because that would have implied that they were somehow Greek, ala Phillip of Macedonia.

I remember saying something about the West, implying that Macedonia was from the East, which they took exception to.  They were a prickly bunch, those Macedonians.  But I guess that if you had just broken away from Tito’s iron grip, you would be prickly too.

The Russian delegation was a good deal older than our American delegation.  I assumed they were KGB agents, but because I was young staff member for the loyal opposition and had no secrets to spill, I found their KGB’ness to be fascinating.  I learned that the Russians could drink vodka more efficiently and with less negative result than I could, something that should have been self-evident.

Ah, the wonders of youth.

Gary Hart gave a speech to this assemble group, which included delegations from Germany, France, Italy, and other E.U countries.  The Irish were not represented, a slight that I found to be annoying.

Hart’s talk (and keep in mind, this was well before anybody had ever heard of Osama Bin Laden), was about the dangers of the next type of warfare, which he opined would be low-level terrorism, not the conventional type assumed by the Cold War planners.  Prescient, was he.

I had done international travel before, but never at a conference organized by the governments.  It was a great learning experience.

You could tell that Sylvia Mathews was going places.

Despite getting lost on her jog through the streets of London, she was leader of our delegation.  Whip-smart, always-organized, well-spoken, and always very gracious.  I don’t remember her getting into a vodka drinking contest with the Russians, which spoke to her innate common sense.

Republicans have had fun beating up on Kathleen Sebelius over the roll-out of Obamacare, and she has made it pretty easy for them.  Let’s face it.  Obamacare has been a disaster.   But Sylvia Mathews, now Sylvia Mathews Burwell, is not going to be as easy of a nut to crack.