Politics & Polls #177: Leadership in a Time of Crisis Featuring Juliette Kayyem

Mar 25 2020
By Brillian Bao
Topics Health Politics
Source Woodrow Wilson School

As the number of COVID-19 cases around the nation continues to climb, Americans are racing to respond. Entire cities have ground to a halt. Doctors have appealed for more masks, gowns, and eye gear. And many states have closed nonessential businesses and issued shelter-in-place orders. The pandemic is undoubtedly one of the biggest crises the nation has faced in recent decades. What will the next few months look like? And are our state and national governments doing enough?

Juliette Kayyem joins Julian Zelizer and Sam Wang in this week’s episode to discuss these questions, drawing on her experience as the assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration. Kayyem explains how past governments have responded to crises and proposes two critical elements of good leadership: numbers and hope.

Kayyem has spent more than 15 years managing complex policy initiatives and organizing government responses to major crises in both state and federal government. She is the Senior Belfer Lecturer in International Security at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where she is faculty chair of the Homeland Security and Security and Global Health Projects.

Kayyem is the author of “Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home,” in which she weaves her memoirs of living through these moments with the kind of work she has done. She is also the founder of Kayyem Solutions, LLC, a group that provides strategic advice in resiliency planning, risk management, event security, and more. She appears frequently on CNN as their on-air national security analyst.


Wang is a professor at Princeton University, appointed in neuroscience with affiliate appointments in the Program in Law and Public Affairs and the Center for Information Technology Policy. An alumnus of Caltech, where he received a B.S. with honors in physics, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Stanford University School of Medicine. He conducted postdoctoral research at Duke University Medical Center and at Bell Labs Lucent Technologies. He has also worked on science and education policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. He is noted for his application of data analytics and poll aggregation to American politics. He is leading an effort at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to build a 50-state data resource for legislative-quality citizen redistricting. His work to define a state-level legal theory to limit partisan gerrymandering recently won Common Cause’s Gerrymandering Standard Writing Contest. His neuroscience research concerns how the brain learns from sensory experience in early life, adulthood and autism.

Zelizer has been among the pioneers in the revival of American political history. He is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a CNN political analyst. He has written more than 900 op-eds, including his popular weekly column for CNN.com and The Atlantic. This year, he is the distinguished senior fellow at the New York Historical Society, where he is writing a biography of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel for Yale University's Jewish Lives Series. He is the author and editor of more than 19 books including, “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society,” the winner of the D.B. Hardeman Prize for the Best Book on Congress. In January 2019, Norton published his new book, co-authored with Kevin Kruse, “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.” In spring 2020, Penguin Press will publish his other book, “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, The Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.” He has received fellowships from the Brookings Institution, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation and New America.