RM Alumnus Jacob Leibenluft discusses his journey to the White House

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In recent years, RM students have developed a fervent passion for politics. This community is eager to make a difference in the world, whether it is advocating for gun control or supporting the #MeToo movement. However, 20 years ago, RM’s culture was vastly different, and such an interest in politics wasn’t the norm.

In 1998, Jacob Leibenluft began his freshman year with a burning fascination for politics due to his family background and proximity to the nation’s capital. “Growing up in the Washington DC area, getting The Washington Post every day, [growing] up in a family that was politically engaged and [talking] about politics a lot,” Leibenluft said. “I think just from an early age I was really excited about politics and the opportunity it offered to make the world a better place.”

When Leibenluft was in high school, his interest in politics was unconventional. In contrast, today, enthusiasm for politics among RM students is prevalent, a radical change that he attributes to the emergence of social media. “Reading the Washington Post everyday kind of made me a weird kid, whereas [today] you can scroll through whatever social media you use and see political things happening. It’s so much easier to find ways to get involved; it doesn’t feel like some distant thing,” he said.

Leibenluft’s passion for politics remained steadfast throughout high school and followed him to Yale University, where he was met with a plethora of opportunities to pursue his passion. Leibenluft was awarded Truman and Henry Luce Scholarships as well as the title of Goldman Sachs Global Leader, all prestigious awards that gave him chances to explore his ambitions. Journalism became a crucial outlet for him to express his beliefs.

Leibenluft was propelled from writing on the Tide to being Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Daily News, dedicating an extensive amount of time and effort to this new vocation. “To me, newspapers offered this really cool way to tell people about what was going on in the world, to articulate an idea and to potentially speak truth to power,” Leibenluft said. “It was one of the easiest ways to be part of the conversation.”

At Yale, Leibenluft majored in history and economics, the latter serving as the foundation for his numerous careers. “Dating back to high school, I knew that I had an interest in economics. It felt like one of the ways that you affect people’s lives, ” Leibenluft said.

After graduation, Leibenluft’s dream to help people through economic policies became his reality. He started in the Department of Treasury, moved on to the National Economic Council (NEC), then to the position of Senior Advisor of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and finally to his current position as the Executive Vice President of Policy for the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Photo courtesy of Politico Magazine
Leibenluft (second from left) in meeting about Obama’s minimum wage policy for federal contractors.

One of Leibenluft’s most memorable jobs was his work as the NEC’s Deputy Director. “I was responsible for [coordinating] the entire administration’s work around the economic agenda. Ultimately, I [brought] decisions up to the President and also [advocated] for the President’s agenda to the outside world,” Leibenluft said.

Currently, Leibenluft tackles a multitude of concerns at the CAP, a nonprofit organization that revolves around researching and advocating for progressive public policy. “An increasingly important part is helping to put forward a progressive agenda for how we can make real progress that improves people’s lives: [working] with politicians, other advocacy groups and grassroots activists to build support for ideas that improve people’s healthcare, help increase wages and fight climate change,” Leibenluft said.

He encourages others to also step out of their comfort zones to change lives for the better.  “Identify what makes you excited to get up in the morning. The people I know who are happiest at their job and best at their job are people who really love what they do,” he said.