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From the Classroom to the Campaign : Politics: Derek Shearer has taken a leave from Occidental to serve as an adviser to Bill Clinton. The professor and the governor are old friends.

August 27, 1992|JESSICA GOODHEART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

EAGLE ROCK — Derek Shearer's phone is ringing again. "Hello . . . yah . . . I'm in the middle ofa campaign, Joe." He sounds a little impatient.

And it's no wonder. The Occidental College professor gets 30 to 40 phone calls a day--not the kind of constant interruption most academics would seek out.

But Shearer has a passion for real world politics, and he's indulging it without reservations this summer as a top economic adviser to an old friend, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Since taking a leave of absence from Occidental in June to join the Clinton presidential campaign as a volunteer, Shearer has spent about half his time on the road, traveling to meetings in Little Rock, around the state of California, and anywhere else the campaign calls.

When in Los Angeles, he churns out memos, fields press calls, lunches with Clinton supporters and helps coordinate the California campaign.

Shearer has been peddling a message contained in an economic manifesto, which he drafted along with Ira Magaziner, a Rhode Island businessman, and Robert Reich, a Harvard professor. The booklet outlines Clinton's economic plan and is credited with reviving the lagging Clinton campaign in June.

The plan calls for domestic spending of $50 billion a year in areas such as infrastructure, advanced technologies, welfare and health care reform, all with a dramatic reduction in the deficit.

Shearer proposes to offset the spending program--which provided the opposition one of its favorite targets of ridicule in last week's Republican convention--by eliminating corporate tax loopholes, cutting federal spending and controlling health care costs.

"The point about the plan is, it's not the budget," Shearer said. "This was meant to be an indication of strategy and values."

Shearer, a public policy--not economics--professor, said the plan incorporates few of his own ideas: "I don't try to push my solution on" the candidate. Instead, Shearer, a self-described "utility infielder," serves a coordinating role by supplying Clinton with experts and articles on a range of subjects.

"Derek is the kind of person that thinks you should bring a lot of people together to discuss an issue," said Manuel Pastor, an economics professor at Occidental and a fellow at the college's International and Public Affairs Center, which Shearer directs.

Nevertheless, Shearer and the other drafters share a belief in the plan's central theme, which he has been trying to sell to the press over the past few months.

"The core message is not that we need better tinkering with the federal reserve or we need to tinker a bit with this or that tax rate," Shearer said. "It's that there are structural problems in the economy. We need to deal with the institutions in the society, a lot of which are rundown or decayed or not running very well."

Shearer met Clinton at Oxford in the late 1960s while working as a free-lance journalist. Both shared an opposition to the Vietnam War and a passionate interest in government.

Shearer said that Clinton was much the same then as he is today--"a natural politician" and unrelentingly gregarious. The two men--Shearer, 45, and the governor, 46--maintained their friendship over the years, and during the California primary even managed to squeeze in some hours of down time.

But Clinton, it seems, cannot be kept from potential voters for very long. On a visit to Shearer's house in Santa Monica during the California primary, Clinton stood out in the middle of the street and talked to Shearer's neighbors.

"He's very at ease with people and always has been," Shearer said.

Shearer, a former Santa Monica planning commissioner, has taught at UCLA, Tufts University in Massachusetts and UC Santa Barbara. He came to Occidental in 1981 and now directs its public policy program.

He tries to bring his zest for real world politics to the classroom, teaching about "how policy really gets made." Students learn to deal with bureaucracies, write up policy decisions and even craft public relations brochures.

Shearer said he often invites journalists, campaign consultants and local politicians to talk to students, along with nationally known figures such as consumer advocate Ralph Nader and economist John Kenneth Galbraith.

Before going on leave, he was able to give students an inside view of the campaign during the California primary.

"I think his (students) last spring knew as much about what was going on in the Clinton campaign as anyone in America," Pastor said.

Shearer said he does not try to push his agenda on his students.

"I'm not someone who enforces political correctness on my students," he said. "I try to get them to think critically."

By most accounts, Shearer is more liberal than Clinton. In fact, the Orange County Register singled out Shearer in an Aug. 4 editorial, as living evidence of the Clinton campaign's leftist leanings.

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