Robert Reich on Principles & Values

Former Secretary of Labor; Democratic Challenger MA Governor


Removing Trump via 25th amendment may do more damage

The 25th amendment allows the vice-president to become "acting president" when "the vice-president and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or such other body as Congress may by law provide" declare a president incapacitated. The only thing that's going to get Pence and a majority of Trump's lieutenants to pull the plug before Trump pulls it on them may be so horrific that the damage done would be way beyond anything we've experienced to date.
Source: The Guardian: Clinton Cabinet on impeaching Trump , Sep 15, 2019

Refusing Congress' subpoena fits a dictator, not a president

"We're fighting all the subpoenas," says the person who is supposed to be chief executive of the United States government. In other words, there is to be no congressional oversight of this administration: no questioning a former White House counsel about the Mueller report. No presidential tax returns to the ways and means committee, even though a 1920s law specifically authorizes the committee to get them. Such a blanket edict fits a dictator of a banana republic, not the president of a constitutional republic founded on separation of powers.

If Congress cannot question the people who are making policy, or obtain critical documents, Congress cannot function as a coequal branch of government. If Congress cannot get information about the executive branch, there is no longer any separation of powers, as sanctified in the US constitution. There is only one power--the power of the president to rule as he wishes. Which is what Donald Trump has sought all along.

Source: OpEd in "The Guardian" (UK) on impeaching Trump , Apr 28, 2019

When Nixon blocked aides' testifying, Dems threatened jail

Presidents before Trump have argued that complying with a particular subpoena for a particular person or document would infringe upon confidential deliberations within the executive branch. But no president before Trump has used "executive privilege" as a blanket refusal to cooperate.

Trump is treating Congress with contempt--just as he has treated other democratic institutions that have blocked him. Congress should invoke its inherent power under the constitution to hold any official who refuses a congressional subpoena in contempt.

When President Richard Nixon tried to stop key aides from testifying in the Senate Watergate hearings, in 1973, Senator Sam Ervin, chairman of the Watergate select committee, threatened to jail anyone who refused to appear.

When Nixon tried to block the release of incriminating recordings of his discussions with aides, the supreme court decided that a claim of executive privilege did not protect information pertinent to the investigation of potential crimes.

Source: OpEd in "The Guardian" (UK) on impeaching Trump , Apr 28, 2019

We can have democracy or concentrated wealth, but not both

In the late 19th century, railroads, steel, oil industries created vast economic combinations (then called "trusts"), concentrated wealth at the top, and fostered urban squalor and political corruption. The lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of money on the desks of pliant legislators, prompting the great jurist Louis Brandeis to note that the nation had no choice: "We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of a few," he said, "but we cannot have both."

America made the choice. Public outrage gave birth to the nation's first progressive income tax. President Theodore Roosevelt, railing at the "malefactors of great wealth," used government power to break up the trusts and impose new regulations barring impure food and drugs. He proposed "all contributions from corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law," leading Congress to ban corporate political donations.

Source: Saving Capitalism, by Robert Reich, p.159 , May 3, 2016

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 on 2002 MA Gov. race, 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 on 2002 MA Gov. race, 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” on 2002 election , 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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Page last updated: May 01, 2021