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Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America

Overview

For anyone who believes that liberal isn’t a dirty word but a term of honor, this book will be as revitalizing as oxygen. For in the pages of Reason, one of our most incisive public thinkers, and a former secretary of labor mounts a defense of classical liberalism that’s also a guide for rolling back twenty years of radical conservative domination of our politics and political culture.

To do so, Robert B. ...

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Overview

For anyone who believes that liberal isn’t a dirty word but a term of honor, this book will be as revitalizing as oxygen. For in the pages of Reason, one of our most incisive public thinkers, and a former secretary of labor mounts a defense of classical liberalism that’s also a guide for rolling back twenty years of radical conservative domination of our politics and political culture.

To do so, Robert B. Reich shows how liberals can:
.Shift the focus of the values debate from behavior in the bedroom to malfeasance in the boardroom
.Remind Americans that real prosperity depends on fairness
.Reclaim patriotism from those who equate it with pre-emptive war-making and the suppression of dissent
If a single book has the potential to restore our country’s good name and common sense, it’s this one.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“We’ve got Reich, they’ve got Coulter. We win. A brilliant and passionately argued book. Read it.” —Al Franken

“Passionately written, politically charged. . . . Compulsively readable.” —The Plain Dealer

“Valuable. . . . Sharp and fresh. . . .Part memoir, part explication of the contending and contentious ruling ideologies of Red and Blue America—radical conservatism and liberalism at odds—and part call to arms. . . . Not . . . an attack book, but a positive one, a call for a rebirth of a liberal ascendancy.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Utterly lucid and engaging.” —Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickle and Dimed

“Appealing. . . . Mr. Reich explodes a number of fallacies on the left . . . and the right. . . . Eminently wise.” —The New York Times

Ted Widmer
Mr. Reich explodes a number of fallacies on the left (that manufacturing jobs can be saved) and the right (that tax cuts and trickle-down economics reach poor people). Beyond his political acumen, he is a gifted moralist, and some of his best sections argue against the double standard of conservatives who voice exaggerated moral outrage over selective issues like gay marriage but never speak out on corporate corruption, insane C.E.O. salaries and the politics of personal destruction.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. 60,000 first printing. (May 12) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Liberals should win, argues Brandeis professor Reich, but can they? Only when they act on the courage of their convictions. With an 11-city author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
To the barricades, liberals: according to former Secretary of Labor Reich, your hour is at hand. Americans, Reich (The Future of Success, 2001, etc.) argues, tend to be socially moderate, if not liberal; certainly they are not "radcons," or radical conservatives, by inclination. In support of this assertion, Reich offers a series of public-opinion surveys showing that a majority of people favor a woman's right to choose, America conceived of as a secular nation, environmental protection over short-term economic gain, and liberty and justice for all. Yet-and here's the rub-even though Americans "have had enough of the radical conservatives-their intolerance, their mean-spiritedness, their moral righteousness, their arrogance toward the rest of the world"-Americans seem to have no problem putting such people in office. This, by Reich's account, is because the progressive or liberal wing of the Democratic Party has failed to provide any kind of agenda that speaks to the "large, anxious middle and lower-middle class" and has instead stood by as others within the party have pushed it rightward toward an imagined center. "Centrism is bogus," Reich thunders. "The ‘center' keeps shifting further right because Radcons stay put while Democrats keep meeting them halfway." Thus Clinton's embracing an economic boom that benefited only a few; thus the Democrats' having so little vision that the only thing they could think of to do with the budget surplus of a few years' back was to retire the national debt early. Stuff and nonsense, Reich argues; it's time to unfurl the liberal flag and proudly own the name, recognizing that the largest political group in the country is not Republicans or Democrats or"swing voters," but those Americans who, out of apathy or disgust, just don't vote at all. That's the audience to court, Reich insists, for winning it will bring on a liberal restoration. All remains to be seen. But Reich offers a persuasive, and spirited, view of the present political landscape and how it might be remade.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400076604
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/8/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 460,747
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


ROBERT B. REICH is a professor at Brandeis University. He has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, most recently as Secretary of Labor under President Clinton. His work has appeared often in major national publications. This is his tenth book. He lives in Cambridge, MA.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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.

Bork had been one of my professors at law school. I didn’t share his political views but I respected him. So when he asked me to come to Washington, I accepted. My job was to write briefs on behalf of the United States in cases that were to come before the Supreme Court. I stayed two years before moving to the Federal Trade Commission, after Jimmy Carter was elected president. Bork went on to become one of the most thoughtful radical conservatives in America. You may recall that in 1987 Ronald Reagan nominated him to the Supreme Court, setting off an intense battle over his confirmation. I quote Bork at some length in this book because his writing has been so influential among radical conservatives. I still disagree with him, but I still respect him.

It’s possible to disagree and yet still be respectful. I strongly disagree with, but know and respect, several of the radical conservatives I quote in this book—not only Bork but also Bill Bennett, a former Reagan administration official who has become the Radcon voice of public morality; Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, who has articulated much of Radcon foreign policy; and Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House. Their ideas deserve a fair hearing, and a clear case should be made for why they are dangerously wrong.

In the sixties (a period that in political and cultural terms actually ran from about 1964 to 1972), the New Left was the source of most of the political passion and intensity in America. Liberals were considered wimps—wishy-washy, bourgeois. The militant organizer Saul Alinsky adopted the definition of a liberal as someone “who leaves the room when a fight begins.”

Now it’s hard to find any sixties lefties, except maybe in the rarefied precincts of a few universities where aging radicals still debate Marxism and deconstruction. Most of the political passion and intensity these days are on the radical conservative right.

But the two extremes—what remains of the sixties left, and the Radcons—share much of the same sense of moral superiority, the same unwillingness to consider alternative points of view.* There’s an important difference, though: The left never gained the power in America that the Radcons now have.

In my view, both extremes are wrong. Liberals, on the other hand, doubt that anyone has a monopoly on the truth. That’s why liber- als place such a high value on tolerance and democracy. That’s why liberals have insisted on a clear separation between church and state. And it’s also why liberals worry about wealth and power. When wealth and power become concentrated in the hands of a rela- tively few citizens, the strong become stronger; everyone else, more vulnerable.

The word “liberal” was used by George Washington to indicate a person of generosity or broad-mindedness, as opposed to those who wanted to deprive Catholics and Jews of their constitutional rights.2 Franklin D. Roosevelt defined a “liberal” this way: “[S]ay that civilization is a tree which, as it grows, continually produces rot and dead wood. The radical says: ‘Cut it down.’ The conservative says: ‘Don’t touch it.’ The liberal compromises: ‘Let’s prune, so that we lose neither the old trunk nor the new branches.’ ”3 FDR himself expanded and altered the common understanding of liberalism. Before the New Deal, liberalism was mostly about protecting people’s freedom.

* Even some of the individuals are the same: A few lefties from the sixties transported their moral absolutism to the radical right in the late seventies and eighties and became “neoconservatives.” The term is generally applied to those who moved from far left to far right, but for the purposes of this discussion, I include them together with other Radcons.

But the Great Depression taught America that unemployment and bad luck could be just as harmful to personal freedom as tyranny. Protection against these required a larger role for government.

Henceforth, liberals were assumed to be in favor of a big government. But that’s way too simple. The government’s size or reach isn’t the issue. It’s what government does and whose interests it represents. Does it guard our civil liberties or intrude on our privacy? Does it protect the weak or promote the strong? I don’t want a big government eavesdropping on my private telephone calls or e-mail, checking the books I’ve borrowed from the library, monitoring my movements, telling me what I can and can’t say. I don’t want a big government pouring billions of dollars into big companies—energy behemoths, agribusinesses, pharmaceutical giants, whatever—because they’ve made large political donations. And I don’t like the idea of a giant military machine mounting “preemptive” wars without international backing. I don’t want a big government that’s the center of an intimidating, unaccountable empire.

Being a liberal isn’t at all the same as being in favor of big government, despite what Radcons claim. Most liberals would prefer a small government that supported and protected the little guy over a big government that did the bidding of the wealthy and powerful. Frankly, people I know are more worried that our democracy is being corrupted by an increasing flow of campaign money from rich people and corporations to politicians. I also don’t want a big government imposing any particular religious view on me or my kids, or on anyone else. In my view, government has no business telling people how to run their private lives or dictating personal morality. I don’t want government giving or withholding funds to promote marriage, discouraging childbearing by welfare mothers, or pushing religion in our public schools.

Again: Government’s size isn’t the issue. It’s what it does, and for whom.

radcons aren’t real conservatives

Here, briefly and in its most undiluted form, is the Radcon agenda for America:

• prevent sex before marriage

• ban abortion

• condemn homosexuality

• prohibit gay marriage

• require prayer in the public schools

• give large tax breaks mainly to the rich

• cut social services mainly for the poor

• “privatize” social insurance

• eliminate regulations on business

• allow pollution of the environment

• ban affirmative action

• impose long prison sentences and, for the most serious crimes, the death penalty

• make English the official national language

• invade and occupy countries that may harbor or help terrorists

• go it alone in foreign affairs, disregarding the United Nations and avoiding international treaties

• squelch dissent about foreign policy

• restrict civil liberties for the sake of national security.

Most open-minded Americans will grant that there are arguments for and against each of these positions. What defines a Radcon is not openness to the case for them but fervent certainty they’re correct and necessary, and disdain for those who disagree.

This list, of course, doesn’t cover all radical conservative goals. And not every radical conservative subscribes to every one of them. But most radical conservatives agree on most. The consensus among Radcons is strong because these goals are based on a common worldview—both about the forces America is battling at home and abroad, and about how these forces can best be overcome.

Most of this book is about why these views are wrong, what a vigorous liberalism stands for instead, and why our future depends on the latter. But it’s important at the outset to understand the roots of radical conservatism. Radcons, it must be noted, are very differ- ent from real conservatives. A real conservative is somebody like the late Senator Robert A. Taft, of Ohio, or Senator John McCain, of Arizona—someone who wants to conserve many of the things that are great about America: the value we place on hard work, our dedication to family and community, our love of freedom, our storehouse of generosity and tolerance.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

PREFACE
Back to the Future

CHAPTER ONE
Prelude: The Revenge of the Radcons

CHAPTER TWO
Public Morality

CHAPTER THREE
Real Prosperity

CHAPTER FOUR
Positive Patriotism

CHAPTER FIVE
Winning: It Will Take More Than Reason

Appendix A
Discussion Guide to the Liberal Reawakening

Appendix B
Recommended Reading

Notes
Acknowledgments
Index

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2005

    Reason is the Wrong Title.

    This is a book called 'Reason' intended to defend liberalism. Through amusing recollections and anecdotes you will learn that the author, Professor Robert Reich is an very affable nice guy. Whether you are liberal or conservative, you should like him as a person. Unfortunatly if you are liberal you will not get much more since the book merely churns a lot of mush. Conservatives on the other hand can read this book and receive a fair perception of what is wrong. Since Prof. Reich comes across on TV and radio as a smart guy I expected him to project (and I was seeking) a logical defense against conservative ideas. For example, Prof. Reich knows full well that conservatives worry that a liberal egalitarian government degenerates to statism. They think that the liberal desire for equality opposes an unpleasant 'fact' that people have inborn natures and are not interchangble units. So egalitarian impulses require compulsion to cope with this brutal fact and come into conflict with individual freedoms. The founders of the American democracy understood this. That is why they empowered co-equal branches of government providing checks and balances protecting us against abuses afflicting many other countries. What is arguably even more important is that our form of government provides a economic environment fostering inovation and creation of wealth. In my mind, Prof. Reich needs to address these concerns with something more illumnating that a declaration that they are 'rubbish.' Reich had plenty of opportunity, yet in spite of its title, the kind or intellectual argument versus counter-argument I expected was absent. Several times he mentions fairness and the desirability of equalizing distribution of income but he does not lay any groundwork or promote the idea. He seems un-aware of any need for checks and balances. I think he only mentions the Constitution twice and in one of those cases, it is in the context of an impediment to one of his utopian visions. He could have argued that 'fair' or 'good' is what the majority of votors say it is and that there is fairness as long as a robust democratic process is involved in the decision. Instead, he just arrogates to himself, a 'commensense' notion of what is 'fair.' Reich's use of reason consists of nothing more than saying that conservatives are 'wrong' or more forcefully, 'dead wrong,' or that their ideas are 'nonsense.' He attempts to dehumanize conservatives, with the perjorative term 'Neocon', which he uses through out the book. In short, the book should appeal to liberals looking for reinforcement of their concerns about distribution of wealth and the capitalist class. But if you are looking for a liberal defense worthy of the name 'Reason' then you need to keep looking.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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