Robert Reich: Politics and Principles

Robert Reich: Politics and Principles



a bar Bryce is University professor at Brandeis and Maurice Hexter professor of social and economic policy in Brandeis is heller a graduate school he's been in three national administrations most recently of course the Secretary of Labor under President Clinton he's the author of 10 books just a few of them the work of nations has been translated into 21 languages and will soon appear in English I understand locked in the cabinet was his witty and revealing accounts of his experience in government the future of success is his most recent book or just about his most recent almost as most recent book and he has a lot to say about that and as someone who's done it I mean he can speak about the future of success he knows a lot about it he has written extensively for The New Yorker the Atlantic Monthly the New York Times many scholarly journals and as a co-founder a national editor of the American Prospect and in one of his most noteworthy recent contributions to public service he was defeated for governor of Massachusetts Robert rice was born in Scranton Pennsylvania and grew up in South Salem New York in a rural community he graduated from Dartmouth in 68 obtained an MA at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and was a colleague of Bill Clinton's I believe at that time met his wife at Oxford as well then graduated from Yale Law School in 1973 for most of the last 20 years except for instance in Washington he has been based in Cambridge Massachusetts with his wife Claire Dalton who teaches law at Northeastern University and who was the founding director of Northeastern Center on domestic violence they have two sons Sam and Adam he is as extraordinarily stimulating lively intellect who generates tremendous enthusiasm and public debate for his ideas the pleasure of teaching with him for several years in Cambridge Mass and I learned a ton every single day when he was Secretary of Labor throughout the first Clinton term he managed a federal agency with more than 16,000 full-time employees an annual budget greater than the Massachusetts state budget he was able to downsize the agency by 12% through attrition doing more with less but he earned the Department of Labor his leadership earned the Department of Labor more than 30 awards for innovation and government reinvention a leadership program sponsored by by support then Vice President Gore a 1996 poll of cabinet experts conducted by Hearst Newspapers rated rice the most effective cabinet secretary during the Clinton first term rice transformed the Labor Department into a powerhouse of ideas action and innovation some of his accomplishments were the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act fighting against sweatshops in the United States an illegal child labor around the world increasing the minimum wage for the first time since 1989 that benefited tens of thousands of workers all across the country his efforts protected workers pensions by ensuring that companies fully fund their pension plans and he launched numerous job training programs one-stop Career Center's school-to-work initiatives all of which helped Americans earn higher incomes you've heard him on Marketplace on NPR you see him on television he had his own television show I believe I don't know if it was beyond Massachusetts was it nationwide over Micheline massachusetts with alan simpson called the long and short of it I think was right this man checks all the boxes great scholar brilliant writer wonderful teacher fantastic colleague and extraordinarily effective public servants this everything I've told you is true but it's the cover story it's the cover story the actual story is something so bizarre so literally incredible that I believe without a photo somewhat like Bush and The Smoking Gun photo for Iraq you wouldn't believe me so I'd like to pass out the photo which documents what I'm about to tell you hold on to your hats we're not going to discuss this probably tonight but you know when the current debate about Iraq the question is will the administration be able to produce a photograph a photograph that did for the UN debate this time what Adlai Stevenson's photograph of Kube missiles in Cuba did back in the early 60s so we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words and I just think you you just need to show this no this is all highly sensitive information you can show this to anybody the the truth is that many many years ago bob was basically sent here to achieve everything that I've just told you about but he has this other affiliation he is the ambassador to the United States shall we say an unnamed small rather obscure central Eastern European Central Asian Middle East African Persian Gulf country and occasionally has revealed his identity at key moments I know this because for more than 20 years I have served as his interpreter and although Bob has changed little in the last 20 years I have changed dramatically in fact in this photograph that you have in front of you I'm on the left and he's on the right I'd be delighted to tell you more about this but I would be destroyed if I did so with that as background please welcome either this ambassador or secretary Barbara thank you Michael mr. Dean this is a doctored photograph Factory and the person on the right is responsible for everything I want to thank you all for coming and also I am very flattered by having two former Chancellor's here and let me let me just say I I would I would like to talk about I spent last year running for office in a very cold dark state called Massachusetts it's not clear to me why anybody still lives in Massachusetts after spending a couple of days out here in California but I be but please do not do not tell people back in Massachusetts I said that because I still have a campaign debt and I'm still trying to go around the state this lovely state that wonderful state of Massachusetts I tried to get out here a couple of days ago and the plane I was on just to give you a sense of of the transaction costs that we go through in Massachusetts the plane that when I was on bound for San Francisco in the seat right in front of me somebody found a box cutter now I was busy reading something but I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there were a lot of police suddenly running up and down the aisles I kept on reading I was engrossed in a wonderful public policy book but but I it took me forever to get out here we had the delay in five hours and we finally but I am delighted to be here it was also zero degrees Fahrenheit and that does not count the windchill factor there is nothing between Boston and the Arctic Circle the only people left in Massachusetts who haven't realized how beautiful it is in the rest of the country are losers that was my campaign platform I don't know why it didn't work when I thought I would I would talk to you about though seriously is something that kept on coming up during the campaign and I was kind of interested in even before the campaign because I've spent half of my adult life around politicians working with politicians advising politicians criticizing politicians being involved in campaigns but never actually putting myself on the line as a candidate now I did not do this last year for a lark I didn't do it for experience I didn't do it for fodder for a new book I did it because I genuinely thought I could do a good job as governor but it did strike me during the course of the campaign I did a couple of things that had repercussions that I should have expected but nevertheless was caught a little bit off-guard about for example I was asked by somebody in the press long about last February or March did I think that Cardinal law should resign now you some of you been following what has happened in the Catholic Church and Bernard Cardinal laws role in all of that Massachusetts is a very much of a Catholic State I am Jewish I said in response to the reporter's question yes my campaign manager could not believe my event or to take another example I was I was asked during her very early in the campaign what I plan to do about a budget hole that was you know you here in California have a much bigger budget deficit but in proportion to the total budget of Massachusetts Massachusetts has a huge budget deficit about 38 states have gigantic budget deficits and I was asked a plain simple easy to answer question which was what are you gonna do about the budget deficit in Massachusetts and I said well it seems to me what we ought to do is raise capital gains taxes my campaign manager could not believe or to take the third and last example I was campaigning and and we there was a big parade a gay pride parade in Boston and I as a candidate you know was in the gay pride parade and I was giving a speech to the assembled community a gay community in Boston in the Boston Greater Boston area and somebody asked me a question press was there and the question was do you and would you seek you believe in and would you seek legislation that would allow gay marriage and I said yes my campaign manager couldn't believe so it could the question I really the issue I want to I want to discuss with you it's an issue I talk about politics and principles but it really goes back way before my campaign it goes back to something I want to call the Dick Morris paradox you remember Dick Morris you don't remember Dick Morris but dig Morris was the reason I say that did Morris was Bill Clinton's pollster and he was brought into the White House in nineteen there's some debate about exactly when he arrived because he arrived relatively surreptitiously but he came in we think in 1995 and during the run-up to the 1996 election Dick Morris and I would occasionally but meet in the White House in the hallways he'd kind of slink around skulk around and I would enter into a debate with Dick Morris which had various ways of of a well we we debated essentially the following thing I'm going to give you a stylized portrait of the debate I had with Dick Morris it was an informal debate was an ongoing debate through 1995 and leading up to the 1996 election and I would say dick if this election that we're about to have is about nothing I mean v-chips and school uniforms and little micro policies that the president could not actually get done anyway that are really out of the realm of what a president ought to be saying president ought to be or to be developing an agenda I mean for the second term a mandate for doing things for the second term if the president doesn't do that if these are all little poll-driven minor inconsequential little things that will not ever be put into effect anyway then why even bother getting reelected what's the whole point Dick at which point dick morris would say to me Bob if we did what you want him to do and say in these months leading up to the 1996 election that I'm going to buy Bill Clinton I'm going to try again on universal affordable health care and I am going to put more resources and money into education and job skills and I am going to come up with campaign finance reform that really has teeth and all kinds of other things and that really are bold if we try to do that given the present atmosphere given the fact that Republicans are in control of Congress we are not going to get reelected and all of the ideas you think are very important they may be bold but they are irrelevant if you don't get reelected what's the point and I'd say back to him but dick if you get elected without a mandate and without educating the public and without any idea of why you're getting elected and no principled basis for getting reelected what's the point needless to say we never really came to a conclusion but I call it the dick morris paradol paradox for the very reason that there is something here about politics and principal dick morris he is not here to defend himself and so I can say exactly what I want about him he's very good at what he does he's a very good pollster and he does represent a kind of attitude toward politics which is you go out and find exactly what the public wants you to say and you repeat to the public back what they want to hear and if you do it right and if you do it carefully the public will like what you say because after all you're simply mirroring back to them what they want to hear in the first place and that is a way of getting elected and Dick Morris was was very good at his craft Dick Morris did not believe does not believe and again the purpose of my discussion with you is in no way to castigate Dick Morris but I'm using him as an example a dick March does not believe in principles that is politics as a matter of getting elected it's not a matter of having reasons for being elected it's not a matter of having ideas or ideals it's a matter of getting elected dick Morris is a political consultant and pollster and he represents he's one of the best and but he represents in its higher way of viewing politics that is now very prevalent in Washington there are many of these pollsters and political consultants and they glom on to a candidate like barnacles and I was lucky enough in my little campaign in Massachusetts I didn't have very much money I couldn't hire or afford very much by way of polling and political consultants but they were around me and they did attempt like my campaign manager to dictate what I said and how I said it and what is it but the problem here again are we destined and let me let me let me describe this as a question are we destined to have a politics that is a politics of pandering a politics of simply not leading people you can't lead them if you are basing your campaign on what people say they want you can't lead them to where they are because they're already there that is it visser AIT's the whole notion of leadership in politics because you basically are engaging in a kind of tautology you are telling people you will give them exactly what they've told your poster they want actually Dick Morris just to go off of little tiny tangents in 1995 when he first came to the White House it seemed to me and a few others that it was time for the administration to raise the minimum wage and I couldn't get any support out of both the administration and also the Democrats in Congress because they all said raising the minimum wage is old politics it's just old politics is old democratic politics nobody's interested in that and I went to Dick Morris and I said dick why don't you do a poll you see this can help you if you know how to do and Dick Morris came back the next morning and he said he called me said Bob you won't believe it 85% of Americans believe that minimum wage ought to be raised I said dick how did you find that out so fast are you pulling your family how do you do it but but then helped it helped because that poll turned out to be very central in convincing the White House and also convincing Democrats and not a few Republicans that we did need to raise the minimum wage now let me take you back and rewind the tape what I'm talking about here is not the difference between means and ends there were a lot of politicians who compromised I mean politics is the art of compromise and every position of leadership in our society requires some degree of compromise to achieve certain ends so what I'm not talking about the inevitable compromises that are necessitated in achieving some goals when I was 21 years old I worked in Washington my first experience in Washington for Robert F Kennedy and I was in charge of Robert Kennedy's signature machine for the summer of 1967 and I all summer long put letters that have been written by his secretaries into the signature machine and watched this arm long arm attached kind of to his template of a signature do robert f kennedy i finally got so bored of doing that that late at night after the secretaries have gone home i would write up letters to my friends and they still exists they are framed letters dear mr. Dworkin congratulations on having the largest nose in New York State Robert F Kennedy but during the course of the summer and this is what I want to talk about his means and ends during the course of that summer I also along with a another fellow who worked for Jacob Javits an intern for Jacob Javits I work for Robert F Kennedy we were the two interns from New York State his name was Mark Greene he ran for recently for mayor of New York but Mark Greene and I organized interns all over the hill Republicans and Democrats against the war we came out with a big petition against the Vietnam War all of the interns on it we actually got about 90% of the interns and I was pretty proud of myself it gave me something to do other than Robert F Kennedy I didn't sign Robert F Kennedy to the petition but I did I was tempted but I didn't do it but one day now Robert if Kennedy barely knew I was there and when you're a summer intern you don't really expect much attention but one day I got word that he wanted to speak with me and I was quite excited I went and I waited in his anteroom and finally they said you ready to go in and see the senator and I was ready and I thought maybe he had heard about the petition and wanted to congratulate me and I went in and I sat down and he said Bob well that was flattering enough I said yes senator he said I understand you have been organizing a petition drive and I said yes senator but I'm only co-chairman I wanted to be modest about it I didn't want to take all the credit and he said cease excuse me senator he said stop it I don't want you to do it I just want you to stop get out of this I don't want your name associated with us do you hear me and I said but I he said I don't have time to talk about it just stop thank you very much and I was ushered out of his office and I didn't understand because I had heard and I knew that he was against the Vietnam War but I finally understood because I talked to enough people in the office to understand that this was an issue means and ends he was having enough trouble said his assistance with Lyndon Johnson at that time he did not want simply more paranoia in the White House about what he might be up to on the hill he didn't need that he had his own strategy and I was just getting in the way and so even though I felt very disillusioned I at least understood that this was part of the means and distinction this was not a politician without principle it was just that I thinking that I was actually contributing to his goal and certainly trying to contribute to my own sense of personal value utilizing the position that he had created for me as being an intern I thought that I was accomplishing a goal but I didn't understand the larger framework now I want to distinguish this condition the means-ends dilemma from the Dick Morris dilemma or paradox because when I talk about Dick Morris as opposed to Robert F Kennedy I'm talking about somebody and a set of advice that actually has no principle embedded in it it is not a means-ends distinction there is simply no nothing there except the end of getting power of getting elected for its own results now I am about to say something I have no business saying at all this is very presumptuous I am from Massachusetts you many of you are from California but I've heard people have told me I don't know whether there's anything to this at all you be the judge I have heard that you're a governor let me put this in a slightly different way people have told me that it's very difficult to figure out what the principles are that undergirds and motivates your governor other than achieving and maintaining power I don't know whether that's true you know better than I did somebody just talked about money but i but i but I'm going to I'm going to end this really with enough time to talk to you or just answer any questions you have about this but the point I want to make is it looks like and and the conclusion that I would come to tentatively if I were ending my discussion or my lecture at this point would be there is a great great yearning in the public for politicians who have real principals who are authentic in the sense that they stand up for what they believe and even though I went around the math state of Massachusetts basically saying pretty much what I believed and got into some trouble I think in fact the polls showed that every time I did it whether I sought about Cardinal law or increasing taxes on capital gains or that gay marriage is a good idea it turned out that when people did look at the polls my polls increased every time the the popularity seemed to go up when I said things that were very controversial on the end on my conclusion my tentative conclusion was that because people actually are looking for they want politicians that do who do stand for something and who are willing to say what they believe now that if that's where all I was going to say today that would be simplistic I want to make it more complicated because after I finished my campaign and looked back on it and thought about this issue of principles and politics thought about dick morris and vic morris apparent paradox it seemed to me that i was being a little bit overly simplistic a little bit unsubtle in one very critical dimension we have had politicians whether they are elected politicians or their appointed politicians whether they are politicians who try to be elected kampala tician Strine campaigns we've had a lot of politicians who have very strong views and some of those politicians we call ideologues now you choose your own ideologues some people would say pat buchanan a candidate for president some people might say Ralph Nader candidate for president some people would say Ally North who's been a very kind of a noted public official and public servant in many ways whoever whether you're on the left or the right whoever you want there is a category of people who you don't trust very much in terms of giving public authority to them you don't trust them because they have a fixed set of ideas you don't trust them because they have such certitude certitude and certain and such a sense of definitiveness about what the public wants and what they want and almost a grandiosity about their ability to understand what the public wants that you call them ideologues and don't trust that they can actually translate the public will into good public policy now if that's true if there are these people around and there if there is this criticism abroad then are we Destin's to make a choice implicitly or explicitly between on the one hand the dick morris type of politician the principal less politician the politician who is basically out to gain and retain power who has no principles or on the other hand the ideologue of the left or the right or whatever you want to describe that ideologue who has such extraordinary grandiosity and kind of narcissistic insistence that they know what the public needs and if those are not our two choices what is the ideal that we would consider the right posture for a politician to have with regard to either politics and principle or the combination thereof now my answer and it's a very tentative answer after I thought long and hard about the issue and it and I and I and I have to tell you this is tentative I'm not sure I am right this is a work in progress in fact it's not even necessarily in progress it's a work I believe that there are politicians and I will use some examples John McCain would be one the late Paul Wellstone would be another politicians who have the reputation of being principled papapapa politicians but not necessarily ideologues now what is the difference why is it that many of us many of us I'm not sure all of us I'm not sure how you would empirically prove this but many members in public would say john mccain the late paul wellstone these are politicians who are animated by strong conviction about what is right there's something admirable about them and yet they are not the kind of politicians who we would instinctively distrust because they have a grandiose sense that their opinion about what the public needs is better and more just or more correct than the public's vision of what it needs what is there about a John McCain or a Paul Wellstone that leads us to judge them as principled politicians and not as ideologues well my tentative conclusion is that these politicians exercise a certain kind of leadership they approach the public with an asset of ideals about what they think is correct but they also respect the public enough to engage the public in a kind of dialogue about why they view those objectives as appropriate if you actually watched John McCain and Paul Wellstone was a very dear friend and I spent a lot of time with him watching him interact with voters and you watched those two as examples when they would say something to voters I believe X I believe why they would very often expose themselves in public gatherings countless public gatherings to questions from the public about why they felt the way they did and they would argue their case in public and occasionally just occasionally I saw it with both men occasionally they would revise their views based upon what they heard from the public in other words they respected the public enough to engage the public in a deliberation about what was the nature of the public good they had values they had principles they began that dialogue with a sense of why they were supporting certain positions they were willing to argue their positions but they understood that those positions could be revised and that the public needed to be educated at the very least about why they believed what they believed and my point with you is that that is a different stance then either the Dick Morris principle less politician or on the other hand the ideologue who has fixed views and is not willing to fully explain to the public or to engage the public in a deliberation about why he or she believes a particular view of the public good is better than another view of the public good John McCain and Paul Wellstone also shared something else which I think is part of the same posture of engaging the public in a dialogue and that is a sense of humor never underestimate in politics or in anything else for that matter the importance of approaching a group of people of being a leader with a sense of humor you're not taking yourself so seriously you're taking issues very seriously but you're not taking yourself so seriously that you appear to the public or you appear to yourself as being filled with yourself Paul Wellstone John McCain approaching politics with a certain humor but also a principled basis and a set of arguments about why they felt the way they did now in my campaign in Massachusetts whether we're talking about Cardinal law or the income tax are that is the capital gains tax or or a gay gay rights I did I without thinking very much I didn't do quite enough of what in retrospect I think that John McCain or Paul Wellstone did do or would have done if I were gonna do it over I would have engaged in more public debates I would not have simply said that whatever came to mind I would have I would have couched my positions as this is what I believe but I would have spent more time engaging various publics in a discussion about why I believe what I did believe I did have to do that but I did not I did it kind of reluctantly I don't think I approach the public as a leader or an educator I tried to use humor because really that's the way I am but I could have done a much better job which brings me to my final point whether you are running for office or in political office or whether you are simply a leader informally using informal Authority a leader among your peers it seems to me your responsibilities and your effectiveness depends largely on your ability to get people to focus on a problem a problem that they all have in common keep their attention focused on that problem and engage them in a deliberation about how best to approach and solve that problem the essence it seems to me and again in a very tentative way the essence of leadership is neither neither simply standing there passively and saying whatever you want to do is fine nor is it standing there grandi within a very grandiose way and saying this is what we are going to do but it is rather a process of engaging a group of people around you engaging their attention and engaging their energies and focusing their attention and focusing their problem-solving abilities on a problem that you help them identify that you bring to them as not only a problem but some tentative solutions for the problem but you engage them in a deliberative process about how to solve that problem you act in a principled way you say this is what I believe but I am willing to be convinced otherwise this is what we must do together many of you do this automatically those of you who are already leaders informally no matter what your rank no matter what your status no matter what your official capacity already implicitly understand model that I am advancing and all I can say is in this day and age given the crises the challenges the tumult the problems that confront all our institutions good luck to you thank you very much time for questions particularly about Michael Knox and his background but actually anything you would like to talk about be happy to and why don't you just tell me who you are when I call on you and then give me a question I will repeat the question so everybody can hear yes White House administrations seem that when they started out there was a lot of Karl Rove bolstering so like we were talking with Jake Morris and perhaps now that spoke September 11th it's sort of the reverse more ideologue what it how does that how do you use gun administration in terms the framework we just laid out well I think that look you suggested in your question very much what my answer would be I think Karl Rove is very much of a dick morris character but he's a dick Mars character with some very strong ideological predispositions in other words he represents a sort of interesting combination of those two models and I think Karl Rove has masterfully masterfully in the Dick Morris sense have been able to manipulate a lot of public opinion around a lot of issues that I think are well to take what but one example the notion that you are going to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes on dividends is one of the most absurd ideas I have ever heard and that you can but that they can get away with that is awesome now having said that that is that is a but but my point there is it's not just a matter of pandering to the public there are some very strong ideological goals at work here I believe and again you and I are working on the same database I don't have any access special access that you don't have and we may disagree about what we see as evidence for the following proposition but my proposition is this administration is highly ideological it comes to it comes to a power with a very strong set of ideological predispositions one of which is supply-side economics rip very large that is make the rich even richer but you hide it within a very very elaborate well-tuned a well-oiled polling focus group operation which uses whatever pretext can be found to justify what it wants to do in my view the worst of all worlds very little genuine deliberation with the public very little invitation implicitly to the public to deliberate and very little real explanation to the public about why certain things are being done other questions yes do you think this administration should try to address the immediate effects of some sort of help for unemployment and short term where should they go for these tax cuts well the immediate problem the economy faces right now is over capacity relative to demand that's what's called in economic parlance a recession and those who say we are out of a recession or coming out of recession are engaged in I hope hopeful thinking and not being absolutely wildly cockeyed optimists but there is a lot of evidence that investors are holding back consumers are beginning to hold back and there is still factories that are operating at seventy five percent capacity a lot of underutilized machinery and we have unemployment which is now at six percent but you know as well as I do that six percent unemployment understates the actual percentage of unemployment because it doesn't count a lot of people who are too discouraged to be looking for work so the number of people out there who are actually unemployed is probably up around eight nine million and I would be surprised if by the next unemployment measure that comes out the first week of the month first Friday of the month we are not going to see an increase in unemployment so what must be done right now is to stimulate the economy consumers are holding back corporations are holding back and to assume and again I want to stress this if I haven't stressed it enough that the tax plan that the bush administration has come up with that rewards the rich not only with regard to a dividend tax cut but also by accelerating the tax cuts that were already passed into law which overwhelmingly are rewarding the rich does not stimulate the economy the rich already spend as much as they want that is the definition of being rich question is I'm sorry your name again Rachel the Rachel's question is how given the discussion we have had so far how does that apply to an appointee a political appointee who is working at the behest and really has vicarious power because you are appointed by somebody who has been elected I served as Secretary of Labor I had to do certain things and say certain things that I did not completely believe and doesn't that put me in anybody in my position in a very awkward situation well a couple of points number one if you are an appointed official there is going to be a broad range of discretion you have that the personal point of view is not particularly interested in a president cannot deal in all of the my new shoe of every single department so that there was a whole range like for example the work we did on sweatshops the president just was not particularly it was an opposed to it but he wasn't particularly interested in it there were other things that he was spending more time on and therefore I had a lot of discretion to do what I believed in and also to try to sell the public on the importance of that now there were other issues such as welfare reform quote-unquote where I had severe doubts and some of my colleagues in the administration did resign over it the question for me was is it are my doubts so great that I could not bring myself on the media and in public forums to sell welfare reform because I didn't believe in it well it was a close call for me to be completely candid with you but I felt in terms of means and ends going back to the means and ends discussion we started with that it was worth it for me to stay on and to try to avoid forums in which I had to defend welfare reform it wasn't really directly under the Department of Labor for the sake of other things that I thought were very important yes it's my question as I understand a Dick Morris approach with the triangulation I think he says terminal he says pick three or four of the issues that are going to get you elected give that back to the public what they want and then on the twenty or so other issues following the principles and so I guess my question is if you were here cookie good Mike might there be a category of the principal pollster that takes that problem the question is is there a category of a principal pollster that really is really a sub-genre of the means-ends kind of an assessment or or person where you say look you're going to use the public opinion to get you enough of a mandate and you're going to maybe even pander to the public to get enough of mandate to do things that you think are very important I don't want it again I don't want to be raped Dick Morris I'm using him simply as an example here I would say that most pollsters and most political consultants are not assessing the world in exactly the way you suggested I do draw a distinction and I do acknowledge that there is a means-ends approach but even if you are separating means from ends and even if you say okay I'm going to pander or respond to the public on these three or four issues following exactly what the polls tell me so that I can get enough mandate to do these other things it's on these other things that you still I would say in a democratic system have an obligation to explain to the public why you want to do them if they're important to you to simply substitute your judgment for the public and not engage the public in a recent discourse about why you think they're important undermines the democratic process I don't know how much how much time do we have five more hours we have a few more minutes let's take two more two more questions yes the question is why and there is a supposition built into the question the question is why are the Democrats so extraordinarily ineffective in arguing any position I I think the answer there if we want a car with a very very broad brush the answer there is number one many Democrats and we're talking about congressional Democrats mostly these are the people who are in front of the public cameras on a regular basis a lot of congressional Democrats both in the House and the Senate are intimidated by Bush's poll numbers and they are especially intimidated by a president who is a commander in chief in a time of deep deep public anxiety over what happened September 11th 2001 and so that intimidation spreads to all kinds of areas and number two I think it's fair to say the Democrats ever since the time of Tony Coelho anybody remember Tony Coelho again I don't want to criticize but since the time at least since the time of Tony Coelho Democrats have been feeding many of them at the same trough as the Republicans and as money becomes more and more important even with campaign finance reform which was really a baby in the right direction as money becomes more and more important there more and more Democrats who again feel pressured feel the intimidation not so much of the president but of people and institutions and companies that have a lot of money and don't want to rock the boat and finally Democrats are intimidated and cowed by the culture of pollsters and political consultants who are telling them over and over something that I don't believe but they do and what the political consultants are telling Democrats is 40% of the public is with you 40% of the public is against you and therefore your future depends on the swing voter in the middle and therefore you've got to moderate all of your views don't think about appealing to the base don't think about expressing yourself and your own values think instead about moderating your views to appeal to the suburban swing my assumption based upon what I have observed and what I observed firsthand is that the public may not agree with you when you state exactly what you believe but the public will respect you and the public is yearning for an authentic politics politicians who really not only believe what they say and engage the public in a respectful dialogue about their beliefs but also stand for something even if they made the public may disagree with you Paul Wellstone came out against going to war in Iraq and his poll numbers increased even though most people in Minnesota actually did not agree with him Paul Wellstone would have won in Minnesota and he would have won because people respected just like they respect you on McCain they respected the way he undertook politics time for one more question yes my question is if as you proposed the public is hungry for principled leadership then water began and water pushes poll numbers so high and how do you propose Jessica's question good question to end on is if I'm correct on what the public needs and again this is different from what the public loves I'm not talking about love ability I'm talking about what the public needs and what the public would respect and respond well to and what our democratic system also needs if I'm correct on it why aren't we getting it and what do we have to do to get it part of my response is the same response I gave before that is there is a set of they're kind of an intimidation going on because of the poll numbers because of the terrorism because of Karl Rove skills because of money in politics because of the assumptions that political consultants are imposing on many politicians I would like to think that enough evidence is accumulating that the public really is ready for a let's call it a politics of authenticity although that's probably an overused phrase but you know what I mean after having discussed this for a while I think the public is offenders enough evidence that I think we are going to see a change in our politics Al Gore lost last time and it is still amazing to me although he got the popular vote but he still lost he it is amazing to me that he managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory as he did and why is that why why did Al Gore lose I think in part because he seemed like a fake in those last three debates the public kept on seeing somebody who is different I think that memory shook up a lot of the political establishment or that reality shook up the political establishment and I think that the mere fact that you are beginning to see again John McCain's rating so high is being noticed in Washington and among the political establishment so I I don't want to be a Pollyanna about this but I think that in time and it may come sooner rather than later we are going to see politicians rewarded for this kind of what I am calling principled political leadership and I hope those of you in this audience who have a chance particularly those of you whose careers are in front of you will not only exercise principled political leadership but also at some point in your lives run for office thank you

10 thoughts on “Robert Reich: Politics and Principles

  1. Robert Reich reminds me of that little guy on Southpark who is the motivational speaker to Eric Cartmann…..who says "Words can't hurt me…..you see I am BIGGER than mere words!!" Lol…..

  2. Robert Reich for president  2016: the more I watch this guy the more I like him. I think hes best attribute are these speeches that will show his views and person.

  3. @japandata
    Sounds like your mother doesn't care about the actual impact of the argument. "I win" might make you feel good, but did you actually make the situation better? (This comment was made without knowing the context of your conversation).

  4. @vsnips My folks always said that the first person to react out of anger loses the argument. You sound like an angry white man whose lost the argument.

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