From Robert B. Reich, passionate believer in American democracy, and public servant in both Democratic and Republican administrations-an urgent call to liberals to reclaim their political clout. Reason is a guide to confronting and derailing what he sees as the mounting threat to American liberty, prosperity, and security posed by the radical conservatives-Radcons, as he calls them-whose agenda has dominated public discourse and radically affected government action since the election, by a minority vote, of George W. Bush.
It is an agenda that turns American tradition upside down-embracing "preemptive" war, disrupting essential alliances, reacting to terrorism by weakening our civil liberties, distorting our economy by endowing the rich with tax breaks while cutting social services, attempting to hunt down immorality in bedrooms rather than in boardrooms, where corporate malfeasance is still not legally prevented from chomping away at ordinary American earnings.
Reich offers a bold plan for defeating this politics of fear and favor-whose defining gesture is to equate dissent with treason-and for reinstating the traditional American politics of reason.
He calls on liberals to close ranks and maintain a permanent platform that can grow in power.
He provides clear answers to the barrage of accusations (of communism, of elitism, of anti-Americanism) with which Radcons have been pummeling liberals for at least two decades. He analyzes the propaganda savvy, the commitment, and the organization of the Radcons, and what liberals can learn from each.
He suggests how liberals can wrest the sole ownership of patriotism from the Radcons-there's more to it than flag waving.
He calls on liberals to recognize their strengths. He wants them to remember their unfaltering protection of the central American invention: a society (ours was the first in history) that allows no aristocracy and hence belongs to all its citizens. And he wants liberals to recall how, twice in the last century, liberalism's dedicated reforms rescued American free enterprise from its own excesses: first from the robber barons in the early 1900s, then in the depression-devastated 1930s.
He demonstrates, with quotations from the most respected opinion polls, how far the radical conservative agenda is from representing the national will. And he tells why he believes that once again-assuming the readiness to take action-American liberals are on the verge of winning the battle for America.
Today's conservatives ("Radcons") are reckless, vituperative extremists, deeply at odds with the caution and civility of traditional conservatives like Edmund Burke, argues Reich (Locked in the Cabinet), Clinton's first secretary of labor. Liberals, he asserts, remain squarely in the tradition of Jefferson and FDR, not (as Radcons allege) the late '60s New Left. Yet liberals have ceded certain issues and qualities to Radcons that they should take back. Moral outrage is one: "There is moral rot in America, but it's not found in the private behavior of ordinary people. It's located in the public behavior of people at or near the top." Quoting liberally from conservatives like Robert Bork (who was Reich's law school professor and gave him his first job), Reich wholeheartedly approves of their moral indignation but disagrees with their targets. Referring to John Q. Wilson's "broken windows" argument for zero tolerance of petty vandalism, he writes, "The corporate fraud, conflicts of interest, exorbitant pay of top executives, and surge of money into politics are like hundreds of broken windows." Despite such well-made points, the good-natured Reich can't sustain outrage for more than a few sentences. His second main topic-reclaiming economic growth as a liberal banner-is more seriously compromised by his underdeveloped mix of neoliberalism and social democracy (despite his lucid critique of the Radcons' economic ideas and record). But he roars home with his last main subject, "Positive Patriotism," rejecting "chest-thumping pride" in favor of defining America by its ideals. Although his book is uneven, Reich's distinctive perspective provides insights targeted well beyond November's election.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 07, 2005
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Excerpt from Reason by Robert B. Reich
Prelude: The Revenge of the Radcons
Wealth and Power
It might help you to know a few things about me so that you understand where I'm coming from. I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and grew up in a rural part of New York State, near the Connecticut border. My father worked six days a week and my mother five days a week at their two clothing stores. We weren't poor, but I remember my father worrying a lot about paying the bills. Another thing you should know is I was very short for my age. I still am. Both my parents were normal size, so my short height was something of a puzzle. But being a very short boy, it was natural I got picked on at school.
There's no way of proving these things, but I suppose my early worries about paying the bills and being bullied had a few long-term effects. As an adult, I've been teaching and writing about the economy and government--that is, about wealth and power. I've also had the honor of serving under three presidents, most recently in Bill Clinton's cabinet. In these roles I've tried to help people without much money get better jobs, and also tried to stop some corporations from abusing their power.
The market is where wealth is accumulated; politics is where public power is exercised. In a democracy, they are supposed to be kept separate. But in fact, people with a lot of wealth exert significant political power, and people with a lot of power can arrange things so that they end up with a lot of wealth. When wealth and power are concentrated in a relatively few hands, democracy can become a sham and a lot of bullying can occur. The great liberal Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis put it best more than sixty years ago: "We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both."1 We are now losing our democracy, and we have to get it back.
I never used to think of myself as being a liberal. Compared to most students in the sixties, I was considered pretty conservative. I went to Dartmouth College, whose political epicenter in those days was about 25,000 miles to the right of Berkeley.
I rejected a lot of the values and politics of the student New Left of the sixties. Taking over college buildings and burning American flags seemed dumb to me. I viewed the Vietnam War as morally wrong but never drifted into the cynicism or anti-Americanism of some of my leftist friends, who started spelling America with a "k." I always believed it possible to reform the nation by working within the political system--and still do. I spent much of my senior year campaigning for Eugene McCarthy, by then the only presidential candidate who vowed to end the war. And I've spent a big portion of my life since then in public service. While I've never refrained from criticizing our political leaders when I thought they were wrong, I've always had a deep love for this country. To me, America is a great, noble, continuing experiment. We haven't achieved our ideals by a long shot. But the ideals are still worth working for: protecting the weak from the strong, overcoming prejudice, providing broad opportunity to everyone, creating a vibrant democracy.
My first full-time job after law school was working for Robert Bork at the Justice Department, in Gerald Ford's administration. Bork, you may remember, was the person who fired the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, during the Watergate investigation. Cox had been trying to get the White House to hand over tape recordings of conversations that would show if Richard Nixon was involved in the Watergate break-ins. Nixon finally handed over the tapes anyway, on August 5, 1974. He knew their contents would condemn him. Four days later, Nixon resigned. A few weeks after that, I arrived in Washington and reported to Bork.