American legislator talks about career and pursuit of social justice
In the latest installation of Conversations with the Dean, Heller School for Social Policy and Management Dean David Weil conversed with his former boss Chris Lu, a titan in the public service industry.
The conversation highlighted Lu’s career and his zest for representing people that have been unfairly denied the opportunity to be represented by most politicians. This passion led to his career within the political sphere, where he is particularly known for his involvement in the Obama Administration in important positions such as legal counselor, cabinet secretary and head of the initiative for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Lu said many factors in his life shaped his interests in both politics and addressing injustice, such as his family. As a child of immigrants, Lu said that he experienced a multicultural upbringing that culminated in his understanding that all citizens should be respected and well-represented. He moved to Washington, D.C. when he was 8 years old, and this American political hotbed helped demonstrate to Lu that anyone can enact change if they have the passion and the courage to do so.
The first step toward achieving his ambitions was to complete law school. Lu explained that law school was an important step for him not only for his law degree, but also because it is where he met the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.
After law school, Lu became a clerk for a federal judge and then a counselor on the Congressional Oversight Committee, through which Lu assisted Congress in reviewing and supervising federal agencies and policy implementation. Then, he became legislative counselor for the future president when Obama was elected to the senate.
Lu stated that he was elated to play a role in the span of Obama’s political career, from senator to president. He added that a person “should never mistake luck for skill,” because even in law school he identified Obama as “remarkably gifted” and “knew this person was going somewhere.”
Lu said working for the Obama Administration was an honor and an exhilarating period of his life. However, he also humbly admitted that it was a lot of responsibility. During Lu’s time with the Obama Administration, he became the first person to start working on the transition into Obama’s presidency, which he thought would be difficult because it was the first presidential transition post-9/11.
Additionally, he had to deal with the fact that during the beginning of Obama’s presidency in 2009, the U.S. economy lost 800,000 jobs, and the stock market was in poor condition. Lu and the rest of the Obama Administration had many daunting challenges to face with only so many resources to face them with.
Thus, Obama decided to effectively focus on one issue at a time rather than spread the government’s resources to maximize efficacy. Regarding this, Lu stated, “I think people forget the amount of hurt at that time and Obama wanted to be singularly focused on the issues affecting people’s lives. The world does not cooperate when you are trying to fix one problem.”
Lu then discussed his role as cabinet secretary, during which his responsibility was to ensure the cabinet’s voice in the White House. “It was like conducting an orchestra, but you don’t know how to play any instruments, but you know how it should sound,” he explained. It took Lu time to adapt, but eventually, he was able to proficiently perform his duties by having an end result in mind while carrying them out.
While Lu enjoyed all of his time with the Obama administration, he said he particularly loved his initiative with Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, a passion project for him. He discussed how there has been a significant increase in Asian-Americans and other minority groups getting involved with politics.
He appreciates the diversification that is currently happening in politics and believes that “it’s a good thing when the White House looks like the people we’re trying to represent.” Lu explained that he believes this diversifying of politicians was greatly needed and that a substantial portion of it is credited to the results of the 2016 election.
Weil and Lu concluded with a comparison of the Obama and Trump administrations. Lu first compared how both Obama and Trump ran their campaigns.
Lu said that Obama ran on specific, well-thought out policies that had the capacity to be legislated. Trump, on the other hand, ran on broad themes that frequently contradicted each other, Lu said. For example, his signature “Make America Great Again,” could not be translated into specific policies or legislation.
Additionally, Lu said Obama, like his predecessors, followed the processes for getting his policies implemented, which he described as “getting people in a room and discussing the policy rather than posting it on social media and then retracting it after it receives criticism.” Although Lu does give Trump some credit for some of his brazen actions, he ultimately believes the Obama Administration had a better grasp on the government’s overall state.
After the discussion concluded, Lu took questions from the audience and presented his “shameless plug” of his twitter — @ChrisLu44 — to keep up with the latest political news.