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Brock: the quiet man

By Godfrey Sperling Jr. / October 22, 1985



SECRETARY of Labor William Brock is the quiet man of the Reagan administration. But his words -- whether as senator, party chairman, trade ambassador, or an influential member of the Cabinet -- always carry a lot of weight. If there's a difficult job to be done, it is Mr. Brock Republicans turn to. In early 1977, Brock was given the dubious honor of reviving the party, which was still down and out as a result of Watergate. At that time, there were many political observers in Washington who thought the Republicans would be flat on their backs for years to come. Brock proved them wrong.

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With a concerted party effort aimed at (a) bringing top-flight individuals into political races and (b) wooing minorities into the Republican Party, Brock soon had the GOP back on its feet.

When President Reagan needed someone to walk through the mine fields of trade negotiations, he called on Brock. As special trade ambassador, Brock sought to persuade other countries to export fewer goods to the United States and to accept more goods from the US. His low-key approach pleased the President. And, having another difficult job that needed first-class leadership, Reagan made Brock his new labor secretary.

On taking over from Raymond J. Donovan, Brock quickly brought new people into key positions and made it clear the department was going to play an important role in the Reagan administration.

Brock is not a ``go along'' public servant. And he has upset some Republicans by backing some form of affirmative action to overcome the ``remarkable disadvantage'' to which blacks have been subjected. In spite of the independence he frequently exhibits, Brock is often depicted as a very decent and highly ethical man.

At a recent meeting he covered these subjects:

Jobs: The positions that are going to be here 15 years from now, he contended, are going to be better jobs, cleaner jobs, safer jobs, better-paying jobs, happier jobs. The US is going to be a better country for it. And the competition will help us achieve that.

Training and education: The US, he maintains, needs a system of training and education that allows for transition into the next century. There is no excuse in some schools that 55 percent of black graduates leave school as functional illiterates.

Protectionism: The Democrats, he says, seem to forget that one of the primary charges brought against them in 1984 was that they were the captives of special interests. If they continue to try to protect one industry after another, all they will do is reinforce that negative impression. It isn't good politics. And it is dubious economics.

Democratic prospects in 1986. There will be a lot of volatile elections, based upon local issues and individual personalities. But the Democrats' problem is the same -- they still don't have any sense of unifying purpose. They have no theme, no message to offer the American people, Brock insists. They don't offer any alternative to what Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party are doing.

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.