Shrum, Robert 1943-

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Shrum, Robert 1943-


Born 1943, in Connellsville, PA. Education: Attended Georgetown University; graduate of Harvard Law School.


Office—New York University, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, 295 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012-9604; and Democracy Corps, 10 G St., N.E., Ste. 400, Washington, DC 20002. E-mail—[email protected].


Political strategist and speechwriter. Doak, Shrum & Associates (consulting firm), partner, 1985-2004. Speechwriter for New York mayor John Lindsay, beginning 1970; writer and strategist for numerous other Democratic campaigns, including the presidential campaigns of George McGovern, Al Gore, and John Kerry. New York University, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, senior fellow. Teacher at Yale University and Boston College; fellow at Kennedy Institute. Press secretary to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, 1980-84. Consultant to President Bill Clinton on State of the Union messages. Doak, Shrum & Associates (formed 1985; become one of the top Democratic political consulting firms). Strategist and advertising consultant for various Senate campaigns, 1985.


Pollie awards, American Association of Political Consultants, for best political television advertisement of 1986, for best sixty-second commercial (with Tad Devine), 1994, and for best thirty-second advertisement, 1998.


No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (nonfiction), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including New York, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and New Republic. Writer for television. Columnist, Slate.


Robert Shrum worked as a speechwriter and political consultant for numerous prominent politicians during his career, including Democratic presidential candidates Edward M. Kennedy, George McGovern, John Kerry, and Al Gore. Raised in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania, Shrum went on to attend Georgetown University and Harvard Law School and was an award-winning member of the debate teams at both institutions. He began his career as a political speechwriter for John Lindsay, the mayor of New York City, before joining forces with McGovern in 1972. In 1976 Shrum also wrote speeches for Jimmy Carter, but he left that campaign because of his feeling that Carter's positions on the issues were inconsistent. Shrum's most famous clients have frequently failed to win their most ambitious political bids—none of them has ever won a bid for the U.S. presidency—but nevertheless, his effectiveness as a writer and consultant is widely acknowledged. Quoted in an Adweek article by Stephen Battaglio in 1989, media consultant David Axelrod characterized Shrum as "the poet laureate of the Democratic party."

After Shrum retired from his consulting business in 2004, he wrote "a lively and indiscreet memoir about his three decades at the center of Democratic presidential politics," according to Timothy Noah in the New York Times Book Review. Noah noted that the author seemed unworried about violating any confidentiality agreements between himself and his clients; the text finds him "gleefully tattling" on John Edwards for seeming to care little about the issues, and on Al Gore for possibly sending his motorcade to slow traffic in an area where his opponents' supporters were likely to be trying to reach the polls. "Is it unethical for Shrum to write about these things? I'm too beguiled by his narrative to give that question the weight it probably deserves," remarked Noah.

Shrum worked on Ted Kennedy's 1980 presidential primary campaign, and when Kennedy failed to win the nomination, he delivered a concession speech, written by Shrum, that was largely considered to have upstaged the acceptance speech of Jimmy Carter, who was the winning nominee and also the sitting president. Shrum's likes and dislikes are barely veiled, according to some reviewers, and it is obvious he has remained loyal to Kennedy. In No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner, "Kennedy comes across as a sort of Irish Dalai Lama, infinitely benevolent and wise," commented Noah. The reviewer noted that Shrum does not seem to question the wisdom of his own decisions or advice during any of the political campaigns on which he has worked, other than "to regret that he didn't impose that advice more forcefully" upon his clients.

William F. Buckley, Jr., a noted right-wing commentator, felt that in telling his stories, "Shrum is willing to exhume almost any political event, to give its DNA and rob it, after the fact, of what claim it had to spontaneity." For example, Shrum refers to Senator Lloyd Bentsen's famous remark to his vice presidential opponent Dan Quayle, when Quayle compared himself to former president John F. Kennedy during one of their debates: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." The remark, which seemed off-the-cuff, became one of the most notable of modern political exchanges; but Shrum reveals that it was, if not exactly scripted, well-practiced. Quayle had drawn parallels between himself and Kennedy before, and Shrum had readied Bentsen with the comeback in case it happened during the vice presidential debate.

A more positive assessment came from Vanessa Bush, a reviewer for Booklist. She found Shrum's book informative and entertaining to read. She valued his perspective and insight on decades of politics and reported that he describes politicians both in "unguarded, vulnerable moments, when they actually spoke their minds," as well as at lesser moments when they "wanted the words—and ideas—placed in their mouths." A Publishers Weekly writer found that, as one might expect from a top speechwriter, Shrum expresses himself with "eloquence and passion," and is "by turns effusive and brutal" in his description of the political figures he has known.



Shrum, Robert, No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2007.


Adweek, October 23, 1989, Stephen Battaglio, "A New Breed of Political Media Advisers," p. 25; September 23, 1996, David Gianatasio, "Tea Party, Anyone?," p. 16.

Booklist, May 15, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner, p. 17.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2007, review of No Excuses.

Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1986, Keith Love, "Consultant Concerned by High Political TV Ad Costs," p. 21; April 21, 1988, Frank Clifford, "McCarthy Aide Predicts Lagging Race to Get ‘Second Beginning,’" p. 3.

National Review, July 9, 2007, William F. Buckley, Jr., "Debasing Democracy," p. 58.

New Republic, November 25, 1985, Fred Barnes, "Kennedy the Front-Runner: He's Not Washed Up. In Fact, He's Leading the Pack," p. 15; August 2, 2004, Franklin Foer, "How Shrum Took Over the Party: The Boss," p. 21.

New Yorker, August 20, 2007, Jeffrey Toobin, "The Shrum Curse," p. 25.

New York Times, August 13, 1980, "Speech Was a Product of Several Contributors," p. 2; August 14, 1980, B. Drummond Ayres, Jr., "Two Writers Aided Kennedy with Convention Speech," p. 3; August 10, 2001, Lynda Richardson, "For One ‘Storyteller,’ a Temporary Gig in Politics," p. 2.

Publishers Weekly, April 9, 2007, review of No Excuses, p. 42.

Washington Monthly, June, 2007, Matthew Yglesias, "Shrum and Dumber: Memoirs of the Man Who Thrice Saved Us from a Democratic Presidency," p. 51.

Washington Post, December 18, 1985, "All-Purpose Consulting Firm Can't Work under One Roof," p. 11; June 25, 1987, "Going with Gephardt," p. 14; July 22, 1987, Maralee Schwartz, "A ‘Kennedy’ Campaign," p. 4; March 17, 1992, "The Media Team That Put Kerry on Ice," p. 6; July 20, 2000, Howard Kurtz, "‘Team of Fastball Pitchers’ Set to Play Tough for Gore; Three Distinct Advisers Shape Candidate's Image," p. 1; August 12, 2000, Mike Allen, "Democrats Tout Less-Scripted Convention; Planners Say Spotlight on Leaders, Issues Will Be Contrast to GOP," p. 7.


Democracy Corps, (January 19, 2008), biographical information on Robert M. Shrum.

New Statesman Online, (May 29, 2006), Robert Shrum, "Diary."

New York Times Book Review Online, (July 29, 2007), Timothy Noah, review of No Excuses.

New York University Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, (January 19, 2007), biographical information about Robert M. Shrum.