Robert Reich’s program to save the Left after a decade of defeats

Summary: Here one of the Left’s top political analysts sketches out a path forward for the Democratic Policy after its well-deserved defeats during the past decade. While tactically sound, he ignores the two weaknesses that prevent the reform of America.

Dead donkey


The Life of the Party:
7 Truths for Democrats

By Robert Reich.
At his website, 20 January 2017.


The ongoing contest between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wings of the Democratic Party continues to divide Democrats. It’s urgent Democrats stop squabbling and recognize seven basic truths:

The Party is on life support. Democrats are in the minority in both the House and Senate, with no end in sight. Since the start of the Obama Administration they’ve lost 1,034 state and federal seats. They hold only 16 governorships, and face 32 state legislatures fully under GOP control. No one speaks for the party as a whole. The Party’s top leaders are aging, and the back bench is thin.

(1)  The future is bleak unless the Party radically reforms itself. …

(2)  The strongest and most powerful force in American politics is a rejection of the status quo, a repudiation of politics as usual, and a deep and profound distrust of elites, including the current power structure of America. {He conflates populism and progressivism, different but overlapping phenomena both rooted in rebellion against elites.} …

(3)  The economy is not working for most Americans. …

Apathy Party

(4)  The Party’s moneyed establishment – big donors, major lobbyists, retired members of congress who have become bundlers and lobbyists – are part of the problem. Even though many consider themselves “liberal” and don’t recoil from an active government, their preferred remedies spare corporations and the wealthiest from making any sacrifices. …

(5)  It’s not enough for Democrats to be “against Trump,” and defend the status quo. Democrats have to fight like hell against regressive policies Trump wants to put in place, but Democrats also need to fight for a bold vision of what the nation must achieve – like expanding Social Security, and financing the expansion by raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes; Medicare for all; and world-class free public education for all.

And Democrats must diligently seek to establish countervailing power – stronger trade unions, community banks, more incentives for employee ownership and small businesses, and electoral reforms that get big money out of politics and expand the right to vote.

(6)  The life of the Party – its enthusiasm, passion, youth, principles, and ideals – was elicited by Bernie Sanders’s campaign. …

(7)  The Party must change from being a giant fundraising machine to a movement. It needs to unite the poor, working class, and middle class, black and white – who haven’t had a raise in 30 years, and who feel angry, powerless, and disenfranchised.

If the Party doesn’t understand these seven truths and fails to do what’s needed, a third party will emerge to fill the void. Third parties usually fail because they tend to draw votes away from the dominant party closest to them, ideologically. But if the Democratic Party creates a large enough void, a third party won’t draw away votes. It will pull people into politics.

And drawing more people into politics is the only hope going forward

————————— Read the full article. —————————

The key truths that Reich does not mention

This is an insightful list by a smart man. But I believe reform of America is impossible by such steps as this. Today American’s lack the spirit to govern themselves. Nothing can change until that spark is rekindled.

A consequence of this is our love of info-tainment, and disinterest in its accuracy (see the Big List of Lies by Our Leaders).  We apply truth as a standard only to the speech of our political foes. We live in safe zones, in which words spoken by members of our political tribe are accepted unquestionably (see the comment section of most political blogs). Such gullible people are easily led by lies, and our leadership naturally evolves to produce people willing to lies to us.

Which should we fix first? Should we become skeptical and seek truth, or seek better leaders? I doubt it matters. Either will be a step forward to a stronger America.

For more about this see A picture of America, showing a path to political reform.

Robert Reich

About the author

Robert B. Reich is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration; Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.

He has written 14 books, including the best sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century CapitalismBeyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it, and his most recent, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality For All.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about reforming American politics, about the Democratic Party, and especially these…

  1. Can we organize the political reform of America? Our past shows how.
  2. The 1% are changing America. It’s our move.
  3. We’re at the very early days of organizing. Have realistic expectations.
  4. Some basics about political organizing in the 21st century. — Building a big organization.
  5. How to recruit people to the cause of reforming America.
  6. How can we arouse a passion to reform America in the hearts of our neighbors?
  7. Is grassroots organizing a snare or magic bullet for the reform of America?

Two excellent books by Robert Reich

Beyond Outrage
Available at Amazon
Saving Capitalism
Available at Amazon.

19 thoughts on “Robert Reich’s program to save the Left after a decade of defeats”

  1. Agreed on all counts. I also wanted to share that Reich is so very right in his seventh point about the Democrats being a giant fundraising machine. The only way I am getting the attention of the Democratic party leadership at any level is by voting with my money on which causes are worth pursuing but they don’t list the issues I consider to be the most important.

    In 2008 Obama gave the Republicans an historic thumping and they responded in a tactically effective but strategically unsound way that resulted in President Trump (the appeal of which is shrinking with every tweet).

    So far the Democrats have responded in ways that are both tactically and strategically ineffective. Admittedly they are still recovering from the shock of a shocking defeat (shocking to them anyway) but if they don’t agree on some sort of general strategy in the next month, they are going to be at Trump’s mercy for the next couple of years and Trump has already clearly established that he is not merciful.

    1. The concept of a “daily presidential approval” poll blows my mind. The President needs to think long term, not wonder what will raise today’s poll numbers.

      1. Pluto,

        Basic leadership: one always — every day — has to be aware of followers’ opinions. Long-term thinking is important (one shouldn’t be a slave to followers’ opinions) — but don’t drive off a cliff with your eyes focused on the distant goal. The daily approval number is trivial; the trend in approval ratings is vital to a leader’s ability to lead.

        That applies to those who rule by authority — such as corporate and military leaders, and 100x more to volunteer and elected leaders.

    2. Agreed on all counts, FM, but the increasing focus on short-term goals instead of long-term planning really gets me down.

  2. The Labour party in the UK appear to have a similar problem to the Democrats. They’ve forgotten that a solid core of their working class voters are socialist but socially conservative. They like socialist policies that address poverty, provide jobs, health service, schools and that sort of thing, but they’re not keen on welfare payments, immigrants, scroungers, political correctness etc.

    The Labour party has become a socially liberal metropolitan party and has lost contact with a large part of what was its core vote.The disconnection was typified in the UK 2010 general election where a microphone picked up the Gordon Brown’s “who was that bigoted woman” remarks about someone who’d complained about the lack of social housing and attributed it to homeless immigrants being pushed up the queue. See “How Gillian Duffy nipped out for a loaf – but left Gordon Brown in a right jam” in The Guardian, 29 April 2010 — “PM’s high-risk strategy of taking to the streets backfires as unguarded remark leads to afternoon of contrition.”

    I see parallels with the Democrats in the U.S. Labour’s attempts to regain voters appears to be the sort of thing Reich is suggesting for the Democrats, namely move further to the left. It didn’t work for Ed Milliband, and so far, shows no signs of working for Jeremy Corbyn despite the best efforts of Momentum.

    Besides, Reich omitted point 8 (though if you squint, #6 looks close). Don’t choose such a heavily compromised and unpopular candidate.

    1. Steve,

      Thank you for the report on what’s happening in the UK. It’s amazing how the western nations have such similar political and economic cycles, despite being so different — and with relatively weak connections.

      “Reich omitted point 8 …Don’t choose such a heavily compromised and unpopular candidate.”

      That is a symptom of a deeper problem — the isolation of the Left’s elites from the larger public. Their internal dynamics brought Hillary Clinton to the top — despite being elderly, poorly qualified (they built her resume as an almost artifical construct, using power and money), and unsuited for the job (her political skills are nill) — despite being despised by much of the public. Quite an accomplishment to find a candidate so weak that even Donald Trump could defeat.

  3. This seems more of the same to me. The focus is on power and not on actually getting things done. Robert Reich should let go of his ideological blinkers and urge Democrats to make Trump live up to his words. If he says he wants to rebuild the Inner Cities, which are the source or symptom of many our social ills, then push him to do it. Offer meaningful and workable suggestions. Remove regulatory and union stumbling blocks to rapid reconstruction. Folks will support those who they see as recognizing and helping to solve big problems. At the moment the delegitimating focus is pure self-serving politics and offers Trump excuses when nothing happens.

    As to Hillary Clinton – I totally agree with your assessment:
    “Quite an accomplishment to find a candidate so weak that even Donald Trump could defeat.” But as long as the Democrats are wedded to identity politics they will find another candidate as flawed as Clinton.

    1. Bernie,

      I don’t know where you live, but your prescriptions are proven ineffective in America.

      “The focus is on power and not on actually getting things done.”

      They can’t do anything without power.

      “Robert Reich should let go of his ideological blinkers and urge Democrats to make Trump live up to his words.”

      “Make him”? How?

      “If he says he wants to rebuild the Inner Cities”

      When did Trump say that?

      “Offer meaningful and workable suggestions.”

      This is the “white paper” belief. Anyone experienced in politics will tell you it’s a myth.

      “Remove regulatory and union stumbling blocks to rapid reconstruction.”

      That’s absurd. The GOP runs most of America’s poorest areas. Do you believe they have instituted “regulatory and union stumbling blocks”?

      1. Bernie,

        Clarification: “I don’t know where you live, but your prescriptions are proven ineffective in America.”

        Those methods might work in other nations. Canada? Germany? Sweden? I would be nice if they worked in America, but they don’t.

    2. I think the Donald has expressed a desire to do something positive for the inner cities, although his messaging did not seem, shall we say, reality-based. (But why elect Donald Trump to save you if the crime rates are trending down?)

      As for the rest, from what I’ve heard out of Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, etc. – they probably would cooperate on an infrastructure bill, assuming it was an infrastructure bill, not a Tax Credits For What You Were Doing Anyway bill.

      1. Dana,

        (1) Trump has made hundreds of promises. I doubt if he even keeps track, let alone intends to fulfill them. I’ll bet fixing poverty is as high a priority for him as it is for the GOP governors of America’s poorest states.


        But from what we know, Trump’s plan explicitly is largely based on tax credits — allowing the US build fantastically expensive public infrastructure that makes the 1% even richer (which appears to be the goal of most of Trump’s policies). See the warnings about Trump’s infrastructure plan. It’s betraying populism. I’m astonished that most people don’t see that. But its the turn for another game of Promised Hope And Change fools Americans.

        The most valuable asset of a con game is their suckers list. They can sell it to other grifters because people who fall for cons once will do so again. They’re gullible and don’t learn. That appears to be the distinguishing characteristic of modern Americans.

    3. @Fab: Oh yes. I remember when I was smallish and a precocious reader, hearing mention of Richard Viguerie (I may be mangling his last name) and his direct-mail hustling lists, and how in many ways those were the bedrock of the modern conservative movement.

      1. Dana,

        Thanks, that’s a useful insight. I hadn’t put those two things together — American’s gullibility and the super-gullibility of those on the far right. Here are two articles about these exemplars of what we’ve become, icons of American exceptionalism.

        The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism” by Rick Perlstein in The Baffler, 2012.

        “Conservatives Have Groomed the Perfect Suckers for Trump’s Epic Scam” by Jeet Heer in The New Republic, 28 June 2016 — “Win or lose, he’ll get what he wants out of this campaign.”

  4. I’ll second the recommendation for the Perlstein piece, it’s been much on my mind during the recent election campaign. There’s plenty of gullibility on the left (obsessing over “toxins”, 9/11 truthers, etc.), but, for whatever reason, a much richer vein on the right. Karl Rove was ahead of his time when he recognized this and dismissed the “reality-based community” as irrelevant. The Trump campaign (and administration, now, judging by the first few days) is the logical culmination of this trend.

    Per Fake News Magnate Paul Horner’s interview with Washington Post:

    “PH: “no joke . . . in doing this for six years, the people who clicked ads the most, like it’s the cure for cancer, is right-wing Republicans.”

    WP: That makes it sound like you’ve found targeting conservatives is more profitable.

    PH: Yeah, it is. They don’t fact-check.”

    1. There are certainly cranks, misfits, loons and weirdos on the Left, but there has never seemed to be that closed loop. I can’t really guess why, at least in a way that isn’t self-congratulatory, but it could well just be an accident of history coming out of the direct-mail hustler roots of a lot of firms.

      1. Dana,

        “There are certainly cranks, misfits, loons and weirdos on the Left, but there has never seemed to be that closed loop.”

        We can only guess at such things, but that’s not my impression. I look at leftist websites such as Naked Capitalism and Lawyers Guns and Money (LGM). They are very closed loops, epistemic closure in action. But they’re not as irrational as what I see on right-wing websites.

        BUT — Trump’s successful campaign has somehow destabilized the Left. Look at LGM. Madness reigns. It’s getting worse. This is a very bad thing.

    2. phageghost,

      “but, for whatever reason, a much richer vein on the right. Karl Rove was ahead of his time when he recognized this and dismissed the “reality-based community” as irrelevant.”

      That’s right on target. I wish I understood why this is so. This hard cold fact is one of the powerful drivers of our politics.

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