Deputy State Dept. spokeswoman Marie Harf has been getting a raft of shit this week for pretty much everything that comes out of her mouth where ISIS is concerned. But amid getting vilified for what some think is her stupidity, she’s getting an award.
“We cannot kill our way out of this war,” she declared on national TV this week, adding (more eloquently) that members of ISIS may need jobs to root out their desire to slice people’s heads off. Even MSNBC “Hardball” Chris Matthews was annoyed.
But one man’s trash is another’s treasure.
Indiana University is honoring her with the Outstanding Young Alumni Award. The school featured her in their winter magazine and talked with her about “life in the fast lane.”
Turns out the fast lane can be trying. Harf, 33, says it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. She wishes she had more sleep. She’d like to cook. She’d like to occasionally escape to Maine.
Q: You’re 33. You’re on a first-name basis with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the director of the CIA and the President of the United States. Does it seem surreal?
“It does when you’re in it. But it’s important to step back and realize how lucky you are, because it’s a tough job and the days are really long and the challenges at times are overwhelming. It’s also easy to feel sorry for yourself: I wish I had more sleep. I wish I had time to cook. I wish I had time to go home and see my family. But when you’re in these kinds of jobs, they’re rare moments. I always wanted to come to Washington. You need to stop every once in a while and realize that what you’re getting to do is extraordinary. That helps to get through the tougher days.”
She gets really hilarious when she discusses “talking points.” Like most spokespeople around Washington, she doesn’t believe in talking points. (Yeah, not really.)
Q: Public trust in government is at a dismal low. How do you go about regaining lost trust?
“I think it’s powerful to have someone stand up at the State Department every day and tell the country what their government is doing on their behalf around the world. The only way you overcome mistrust is transparency and openness and dialogue. That’s certainly my goal as a spokesperson—not to stand up there and read talking points off a piece of paper. If I’m doing a good job, I explain to people why we care—or should care—about different parts of the world; why we’re doing what we’re doing; what we’re trying to achieve; what kind of global power the United States wants to be in the 21st century. People deserve to know what their government does. The more we tell them and talk about it—even if they disagree—the more the trust will go up. Maybe that’s the Indiana/Ohio girl in me, but the opposite doesn’t help. Talking less doesn’t help.”
Harf appreciates the 24-hour news cycle because she can call reporters out for mistakes any time she wants. And if you’re one of those people who believes government lied about Benghazi, probably best to not read on. She says “the notion” that anyone lied is “offensive” to her.
Q: These days, news travels quickly, constantly, and globally. Does that make it more difficult to get accurate information
“In some ways, the instantaneous news cycle is incredibly beneficial. If there’s a story moving out there and it’s wrong, I can tweet and correct it immediately. What I often push back on are things like Benghazi. You can disagree with what we do. You can disagree with our policy. You can disagree with a military action. You can disagree with everything the administration does. But the notion that anyone here lied, or doesn’t have the best interests of this country at heart is truly offensive to me. There’s a line that gets crossed a lot, and it’s character assassination. It’s very frustrating when, on something like Benghazi, the narrative is so divorced from the truth and so blatantly being used for political reasons. We owe the American people better than that.”
Adrenalin rushes at the State Department are her preference. But she’d still like to go to France and drink red wine.
Q: You’ve been all over the world—in some of its most dangerous hot spots. Where would you like to spend more time?
“I’d like to spend more time in Maine. I’d like to see my parents more—my mom’s in Granville, my dad’s in St. Louis. I’d like to spend a week in Paris and a week in Provence drinking red wine. But really, there’s no place I’d rather be than spending crazy hours in that office in the State Department doing this job. There’s really not.”