Autumn 2010: Register
Courtesy Todd Stein
The English Major
Applying literature to legislating
By Riley Blanton
When Todd M. Stein 96C was an undergraduate, he was among the students who met Seamus Heaney during the Irish Nobelist’s visit to Emory. An eager student of literature, Stein asked Heaney how best to find meaning in his favorite works. Heaney replied, “Silly boy, there’s no meaning in any of it.”
Stein was undeterred and went on to graduate with degrees in both English and political science. A decade and a half later, he’s Senator Joe Lieberman’s (I–CT) chief policy aide, and he says the English degree actually has served him best on Capitol Hill.
In high school, Stein’s interest in British literature was piqued by Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. Between his freshman and sophomore years at Emory, he studied literature abroad at Oxford University and encountered Stoppard again at a performance of the playwright’s Arcadia in London. “I was hooked,” he says.
During his senior year, he took a class on James Joyce taught by University President and Professor William Chace.
“Dr. Chace sold me on the challenge of reading Ulysses,” he says. “If anyone tells you they’ve read it all and understood it all, they’re lying.”
After graduation, Stein returned to the United Kingdom to pursue a master’s degree in English literature at King’s College, University of London. He went on to law school at Vanderbilt and worked for four years at the Washington, D.C., office of Troutman Sanders, an Atlanta-based law firm. In 2004, Stein made his entrance into politics as the policy director in Inez Tenenbaum’s bid for a South Carolina senatorial seat. He began working as a legislative assistant for Senator Joe Lieberman the same year and reprised his role as policy director for the senator’s 2006 reelection campaign in Connecticut.
Immediately following Senator Lieberman’s reelection, Stein became counsel for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, investigating terrorism, the failure of levees in New Orleans during Katrina, and matters of national security. A report he authored on homegrown terrorism inspired by Islamist extremism was cited in Time magazine as forecasting the attacks at Fort Hood.
As Senator Lieberman’s legislative director, Stein says his background in literature continues to help him understand political and policy debates. “I have been able to learn what patterns to look for to figure out where the fault lines are, who the key players are, and what conditions have to change to influence the debate one way or the other,” Stein says.
When Stein came back to Emory earlier this year to speak about health care reform and the 2010 agenda on Capitol Hill, it felt like a family reunion. Stein’s father, William Schatten Professor of History Ken Stein, has been on the faculty at Emory since 1977; Todd’s older brother, Jason Stein 98M, is a faculty member at Emory’s School of Medicine, and his younger brother, Andrew Stein 11MBA, is a Woodruff scholar at Goizueta Business School.
“Perfect your ability to communicate,” Stein told the audience, “and go out and engage the world.”