Robert Reich on Principles & Values
Former Secretary of Labor; Democratic Challenger MA Governor
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.[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.
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.”
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