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Robert Reich on Principles & Values

Former Secretary of Labor; Democratic Challenger MA Governor


Democratic Party is dead as a doornail

I know a dead party when I see one, and I’m looking at a dead party right now. Just consider the past eight years: lost the presidency, both houses of Congress, almost all its majorities in state legislatures; will lose additional house seats in the next redistricting; most of the current justices of the Supreme Court appointed by Republicans; and the interminable Bill Clinton scandal. The Democrat Party is stone dead. Dead as a doornail.
Source: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader, p.245 , Oct 14, 2002

Calling Democrats “dead” meant to stimulate debate

Robert Reich earlier this year denounced the Democratic Party as “expired and gone.” Reich penned a stinging column in the Washington Post in March in which he talked of “interminable Clinton scandals” and failed policies of the Democratic Party. “The Democratic Party is stone dead, dead as a doornail,” he wrote. Reich has defended his remarks, saying he was trying to stimulate debate within the party to develop a focused message. He has said he has no intention of abandoning the party.
Source: Frank Phillips, Boston Globe, p. A1 , Nov 30, 2001

Pro-economic growth progressive

Robert Reich, the former Clinton administration labor secretary, is testing the waters for a run for the Democratic nomination for governor, a party official said yesterday.

Reich has quietly told state Democratic leaders he is very interested in joining the gubernatorial race because he feels the current candidates are not offering the vision or liberal agenda that he advocates.

Source: Frank Phillips, Boston Globe, p. A1 , Nov 30, 2001

Rebirth of Democratic activism: 2002 midterm convention

Democratic activists are pushing for a midterm convention next summer. The party hasn’t met at midterm for more than two decades. But activists make a convincing case for rallying the troops next year before the 2002 midterm elections and using the occasion to articulate a new progressivism for America.

The Democrats’ grass roots need strengthening. The official Democratic Party has ossified into a Washington-based financial service. As a result, there’s a large and growing political vacuum at the local and state levels.

If Democrats are to have any hope of regaining the White House in 2004, they’ll need to mobilize these troops and rebuild the party from the bottom up. And what better way to mobilize them than by loudly and clearly enunciating goals they share? Dems could use the conclave to nationalize the midterm elections of 2002--playing against the Republicans the card that Newt Gingrich played when he nationalized the midterm elections of 1994. Planning for it starts now.

Source: The American Prospect, vol.12, no.13, “Rebirth of Dem.Party” , Jul 30, 2001

Democratic Party: not playing dead, but dead

I know a dead party when I see one, and I’m looking at a dead party right now. Over the past 8 years, the Democrats have lost the presidency, both houses of Congress, almost all their majorities in state legislatures, and most governorships. They’ll surely lose additional House seats in the next redistricting. Most of the current justices of the Supreme Court were appointed by Republicans. The Democratic Party is stone dead. Dead as a doornail.

Look, if the party’s alive, why doesn’t it insist that the budget surplus be spent on health care for the 45 million Americans without it? And good schools for all kids? Why doesn’t the party say it’s plain absurd to spend $300 billion on the military when the Cold War is over, and tens of billions more on a missile defense shield that won’t work? Why isn’t it outraged that 43% of the benefits of Bush’s tax cut will go to the top 1%? Why does it play dead on the environment? Why? Because it’s not playing dead! It is dead

Source: Washington Post Op-Ed, “Dems’ Pet Shop” , Mar 26, 2001

Post-college, proudly called himself a democratic socialist

The Speaker roiled the waters when he told a group of business leaders that many newspaper editorial boards contain socialists. But isn't it possible--even likely--that the Washington Post's editorial board includes a person who endorses a guaranteed annual income, or share-the-wealth schemes, or nationalizing some industries?

To call someone socialist is not necessarily to questions that person's patriotism. In the press reaction to the socialist tag was the suggestion that somehow Gingrich was reviving McCarthyism. It is a case of the offended protesting too much. Socialism has a lengthy American tradition, even if it is now on the wane. After all, President Clinton's Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, proudly called himself a democratic socialist in the days after his Rhodes scholarship. As Gingrich said, "I'd be glad to get you a collection of editorials that only make senses if people believe that government's good and the free market is bad."

Source: Newt!, by Dick Williams, p.158-159 , Jun 1, 1995

The Pronoun Test: workers say “we” instead of “they”

[On one tour of workplaces] I administered my “Pronoun Test.” I ask front-line workers to tell me about the company, an I listen for the pronouns. If the answers I get back describe the company as “they” and “them,” I know it’s one kind of place; if the answers feature “we” and “us,” I know I’m in a new world.

It doesn’t matter much what’s said. Even a statement like “They aim for high quality here” gives the game away. The company still flunks. Workers don’t have a personal stake. Employees still regard the company as they--perhaps benevolent, perhaps evil, but unambiguously on the other side of a psychological divide. Most places flunk.

[One steel mill passed]. Using first-person pronouns, and feeling responsible for the company’s future, these workers are making the company work. Technically, they don’t own the company. But in a broader sense, they do, because they make the important day-to-day decisions and they do well when the company does well.

Source: Locked in the Cabinet, p.112-14 , May 4, 1993

Policy is second to politics, and should be

Some of my Harvard students used to regard public policy-making as a matter of finding the “right” answer to a public problem. Politics was a set of obstacles which had to be circumvented so the “right” answer could be implemented. Policy was clean-it could be done on a computer. Politics was dirty-unpredictable, passionate, sometimes corrupt. Policy was good; politics, a necessary evil.

I’d spend entire courses trying to disabuse them. I’d ask them how they knew they had the “right” answer. They’d dazzle me with techniques. But how did they know they had the right answer?

They never did. At most, policy wonks can help the public deliberate the likely consequences of various choices. But they can’t presume to make the choices. Democracy is disorderly, but it is the only source of wisdom on this score. Politicians must lead; they must try to educate and persuade and then must listen carefully for the response. No one can discover the “best” policy though analytic prowess.

Source: Locked in the Cabinet, p.107-8 , Apr 15, 1993

As Labor Secretary, implemented employees’ suggestions

[To the Labor Dept. staff,] “I need your help to do my job. You know what needs to be fixed. I want your ideas. Let’s start right now. Give me an idea that nobody’s listened to.”

I wait. A minute. Thousands of people here, but no sound. I know they have all sorts of opinions about what should be done. But have they ever shared them with the Secretary? Finally, one timid hand. “Yes! What’s your idea?”

Her voice is unsteady, but she’s determined. “I don’t see why we need to fill out time cards when we come to work and when we leave. It’s silly & demeaning.“

I look over at my aide. He shrugs his shoulders: Why not? ”Okay, done. Starting tomorrow, no more time cards.“ For a moment, silence. The audience seems stunned. Then a loud roar of approval that breaks into wild applause.

What have I done? I haven’t doubled their salaries. All I did was accept a suggestion that seemed reasonable. But for people who have grown accustomed to being ignored, I think I just delivered an important gift.

Source: Locked in the Cabinet, p. 87-89 , Mar 14, 1993

Harvard class’ enrollment predicted Clinton victory

There’s a waiting list to get into my courses at Harvard this term. I’d like to think it’s due to my dazzling brilliance as teacher and writer, but I suspect ulterior motives. One of the students on the list comes to my office this morning to plead her case.
“I want a job in the Clinton administration,” she says without blinking.
“I don’t get the connection.”
“Look,” she explains, as if talking to a child. “If I take your course and do reasonably well, you might help me. If I don’t do well, you’ll at least recognize my name, and that helps. And if I ace the class, maybe you’ll hire me.“

Should I be insulted or flattered? She seems as surprised by my surprise and I am by her candor. She continues with a hint of exasperation in her voice, ”Why do you suppose everyone wants to take your class, anyway?“

Bill is going to be president. The polls show it. It’s in the air.

Source: Locked in the Cabinet, p. 7 , Sep 28, 1992

Profiled in "Jews in American Politics".

Reich is profiled in the book "Jews in American Politics":

When one reads accounts of Jews in American politics, the common theme is that Jews have achieved prominence in art, literature, academia, certain businesses, and entertainment, but not in politics or government. The Jewish politician was the exception, not the rule.

In the last third of the 20th century, however, that pattern changed. By 2000, Jews had become as prominent in the political realm as they have been in other aspects of American life. And Jewish participation is accepted for the contributions these activists make, not because of their Jewishness. Nothing could symbolize this trend more cogently than the nomination of Joseph Lieberman for vice president in 2000 and the national reaction to his candidacy. [Lieberman says]:

Although politics was not exactly a Jewish profession, individual Jews did throw themsleves into the democratic process. Some were traditional politicians; others machine politicians. Many more, such as Emma Goldman and the radicals of the early 20th century, were inspired by the ideal that they had a duty to repair the world—Tikkun Olam.

Many reasons account for the broader representation of Jews in American civic life today. The forces of antisemitism have been relegated to the extreme margins of society, the principle of meritocracy has increasingly opened the doors of opportunity. Moreover, the idealism and purpose that were spawned by the movements for civil rights, opposition to the war in Vietnam, environmentalism, and other causes drew many Jewish Americans into the political arena. Jews are admonished tp help perfect the world by the ancient wisdom of Rabbi Tarfon, who tells us, “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdaw from it.”

[This book] provides brief biographical sketches for more than 400 Jews who have played prominent roles in American political life. The roster provides much of the basic information that we felt was previously lacking in one place.
Source: Jews in American Politics, Sandy Maisels, ed., pp. xii-xxiii 01-JIAP0 on Jan 1, 2001

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