Biden team taps Amherst, Hampshire alums for speech writing, economic advising

  • President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris introduce nominees and appointees for economic policy posts Tuesday in Wilmington, Del.  AP Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2020 2:29:06 PM

Two members of President-elect Joe Biden’s administration have roots in western Massachusetts as Five College graduates: Dan Cluchey, one of Biden’s speechwriters, is a 2008 graduate of Amherst College, while Hampshire College graduate Heather Boushey was recently named to the president-elect’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Cluchey, a former Obama administration speechwriter and adviser from Portland, Maine, was a student with Amherst Professor Austin Sarat, who has taught law, jurisprudence and social thought at the college for the past 46 years.

Sarat, who also serves as associate provost and dean of faculty, said Cluchey stood out as a student for his “stunning intelligence” as well as his charismatic personality, with a penchant for being “quite irreverent.”

He added that he wasn’t surprised to learn that Cluchey went on to become a speechwriter for Biden.

“It requires a great feel for language, of vivid imagination and an ability to hear and take in the voice of someone else and then to put that all together in a way that the other person would recognize,” Sarat said. “Given Dan’s intelligence, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s been able to make a career in that way.”

Sarat said he has seen Biden’s recent speeches and has found them to be “a remarkable relief from the last four years” that offer an aspirational vision for the future of the country.

“They suggest that we’re going to have a president who is not going to give in to the difficulties of the present moment, but is going to hold out before the country a view of what he believes the United States can and should be,” Sarat said.

Cluchey was the student speaker at Amherst College’s 2008 graduation, delivering a speech that reflected his college experience and displayed an irreverent sense of humor.

“I assume that the real world is not going to be like Amherst, although I have to say that if it was, I would be much less scared of it,” Cluchey said at the time. “Think what the world would be like if Amherst was the real world — everything would be different. For one thing, there’d be universal health care … on weekdays … from 11 to 11:45 a.m. … as long as you’ve made an appointment, and all you need is codeine.

“Also, there would be no more wars, because of the collaborative art project. We’d just put a massive photo of Ahmadinejad [the former president of Iran] next to a massive photo of George Bush, color them in with crayons, maybe separate them with one of the reference librarians or a green dean, and we’d be all set.”

Boushey, a 1998 graduate of Hampshire College, is the president, CEO and co-founder of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, launched in 2013, a nonprofit think tank focused on economic policy as well as the intersection of economic inequality, growth and public policy.

She is one of six people to be nominated to Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, which also includes prospective chair Cecilia Rouse, a labor economist and dean at Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs; and Neera Tanden, president of the think tank Center for American Progress, who would head the Office of Management and Budget for the incoming Biden administration.

Another Five College grad making headlines is 1995 Smith College alumna Emily Murphy, administrator of the General Services Administration, who came under fire last month for refusing to issue a letter facilitating the transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

Biden’s communications team did not respond to multiple requests to reach Cluchey and Boushey as of press time.

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