Robert Reich was the Secretary of Labor Under President Bill Clinton back in the 1990s. Clinton was the grand marshall of the neo-liberal, conservative-leaning Democrat parade that has swept the nation in the last few decades.
Oh sure, you might argue that Jimmy Carter was the first Democratic president to take the Oath wearing an erstwhile Republican tuxedo. But Carter was a piker compared to Clinton. And Clinton turned out to be an elementary schooler compared to the people who steer the Dems these days.
As a reminder of the shift in our country from something resembling centrism to a distinct Rightist nation, here are some of the planks in the Republican national platform, approved at the 1956 GOP national convention:
- The federal government must continue to provide economic assistance to low-income communities
- The United States should provide asylum for refugees from other countries
- The minimum wage should be protected in the future and raised right now
- Unemployment assistance should cover more people
- There should be tougher laws ensuring more people can join labor unions
- Women should receive equal pay for equal work
Back to Reich. He was the most Left-leaning of all the people Clinton brought to the White House with him in 1993. Clinton was the Right’s worst nightmare: a charismatic, Southern, pro-business, free-marketer who’d drain votes from the more reasonable edge of the Republican Party. Which he did. In the 1980s, the possibility that a Democrat like Bill Clinton might one day emerge so terrified the plutocracy that certain high-rollers actually strategized and bankrolled a smear campaign against whomever that bete noir might turn out to be. Lo and behold, Clinton popped up in the very early 1990s. That campaign was swung into immediate action, as elucidated by journalists Joe Conason and Gene Lyons in their 2001 book, The Hunting of the President.
Clinton was my last choice among the nine contenders and pretenders for the Dem nomination in ’92. At the time, I reasoned if I wanted a Republican president, I’d vote for a Republican. The GOP tuxedo fit Clinton extremely well throughout his eight-year run as the Leader of the Free World and America’s chief horn dog.
Reich, though, alone among the Clinton Cabinet and other contemporary Dem standard-bearers, steadfastly kept the liberal, even Leftist, flame alive. As time went by during Clinton’s term, the Prez became less and less patient with the labor sec’y’s Leftness. In 1997, after Clinton was inaugurated for a second term, Reich handed in his resignation saying he wanted to Spend More Time with His Family, traditional code for I was gonna be fired but the boss let me quit first.
After leaving the Clinton Cabinet, Reich found work in academia, first as a professors at Brandeis University, then at the University of California-Berkeley. He’d already served as an instructor, back in the ’80s, at Harvard University, where he gained his national rep. as a super liberal. In fact Reich as a kid had been bullied because he was so short (he’s 4’11”, a symptom of multiple epiphyseal dysplasia). He was protected by an older kid named Michael Schwermer, who’d go on to international fame as one of the three northern civil rights workers murdered by Ku Klux Klan members in Mississippi in 1964. The care Schwermer offered him inspired Reich. He devoted himself to, in his words, “fight the bullies, to protect the powerless, to make sure that the people without a voice have a voice.”
There hasn’t been a white guy with such chops in a presidential administration since Reich handed in his resignation.
Reich wrote a book about his time in the Clinton Administration, entitled Locked in the Cabinet. In it, he characterized the Democratic Party as being “owned” by Big Business. Not much later he even repudiate his own work in pushing for congressional passage of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) that’d been opposed by organized labor. I’ve always liked people who can change their minds and admit they’ve been wrong.
Anyway, Reich puts out an eponymous Substack blog. Today he writes about being invited to appear on a Dr. Phil episode. You may recall Dr. Phil. He was one of the many self-described experts pushed into the national consciousness by Oprah Winfrey. Most of them either turned out to be, or were from the get-go, as tethered to reality as palm readers or faith healers. Think Rhonda Byrne or Dr. Oz.
One of the producers of Dr. Phil’s show contacted Reich and asked him to guest on an upcoming program dealing with some kind of perceived edge being given, these days, to people of color in the workplace, in schools, and in every corner of America. The producer, naturally, assumed Reich’d be skeptical of such a conceit. Surely there’d be fireworks if Reich appeared on the show.
TV producers and their sisteren and brethren, professional click-baiters, love fireworks. As many researchers into the effects of social media have found of late, strife, disagreement, grievance, and rage not only are great for business, they are actually changing the wiring of our minds.
To Reich’s credit, he has turned the Dr. Phil offer down. He writes:
I’m sending my regrets.
My bigger regret is that the national conversation is in the hands of producers chasing ratings and advertising dollars, with no regard for how they’re distorting the public’s understanding of what’s important or the core choices lying ahead.
Imagine that! Someone is actually refusing to go on national television to explain to millions of people how smart he is, how right he is about some chosen topic, and how people who disagree with him are destroying America.
Robert Reich simply doesn’t want to do those things. The poor man. He might be a decorated university professor, but he doesn’t understand that revenue is far more important than either mental health or civility.