Conference on the presidency examines public policy CAMPAIGN 1994

October 16, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

More than 200 academicians and business and government leaders turned their backs on the gorgeous fall weather yesterday to ponder such weighty issues as public policy, the bully pulpit and the media and the presidency at the Inner Harbor's Hyatt Regency.

White House adviser Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, the scheduled keynote speaker, was not able to attend the 25th annual Leadership Conference.

Instead, Philip Lader, head of the Small Business Administration, spoke, focusing, among other things, on what he termed the "kaleidoscopic phenomenon of policy making."

"We're preoccupied with the process," he said of the public and the presidency.

"It's not a question of what the government does, but how government works."

Prefacing several of his remarks with, "I know how objective you seek to be," Mr. Lader unabashedly praised President Clinton's accomplishments, from domestic to economic to foreign policies.

"His presidency may not be appreciated until our children and grandchildren attend the 50th Leadership Conference," he concluded.

More than 200 people took part in the second day of the weekend conference, sponsored by the New York-based Center for the Study of the Presidency. The program featured panel discussions by political scientists, journalists and officials from other presidential administrations.

Topics ranged from "The Conduct of American Foreign and Security Policies" to "Presidential Leadership."

The media came under fire at a forum on the American presidency being a bully pulpit.

"We know the media is driven by a profit motive," said Jane Blankenship, professor of communications at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

"They're turning to 'infotainment' and tabloid journalism to achieve revenues. . . . Even when there is coverage of entire debates and speeches, it is reduced to news McNuggets, 20-second sound bites to eight-second sound bites."

A sampling of conference participants indicated pleasure with the discussions.

"It was worth every penny," said Arri Sendzimir of Princeton, N.J., adding that curiosity brought her to the conference.

Erik Backus, 20, traveled from Potsdam, N.Y., to hear the speakers.

"I'm a member of the student government," said Mr. Backus, a civil engineering major at Clarkson University. "I want to bring ideas back to the campus."

It was Sonia Butler's first conference.

The New York City resident became a member of the Center for the Study of the Presidency while researching her graduate thesis at George Washington University on how blacks voted in the last three presidential elections.

"It's been informative," she said. "It's a nice mix of different people and different generations."

The nonpartisan center was founded in 1969 by R. Gordon Hoxie, its current president.

One participant, Grail Hanford of Tampa, Fla., said she objected to Mr. Lader's speech, particularly the way he lauded Mr. Clinton.

"I'm a Republican," Ms. Hanford said. "For a Clinton supporter, it was a wonderful speech. But it was a narrow point of view."

Republicans, though, were represented Friday night when Sen. Larry Pressler, a South Dakota Republican, gave a dinner address.

The conference continues today.

For more information, call (410) 659-7300.

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