Letter to the Editor: Puzzled by the Robert Reich debate

Dear Editor:

I am frankly puzzled by a recent op-ed piece that appeared in People’s World: “Sam Webb Doesn’t Get Robert Reich“.

I read Sam Webb’s original piece and while I agree with some of the criticisms the authors of the op-ed piece level at it, on the whole I think that Webb gets it right.

For example, Webb is quite right that we need a landslide in November and that to get that, we need a massive vote from the center, the left and, to the extent possible, from the right, in favor of Hillary Clinton. He is correct that there is an increasingly-deep divide between the extreme right and the rest of the country. Just look at Trump.

And the main division in the country is indeed NOT between “establishment” and “anti-establishment,” though I think Webb is splitting hairs somewhat when he says that the division is not between “right and left” but between the “far right” and the rest of us. The authors would have done better to start out on these points of agreement.

It would be one thing if they had stated the obvious – that there are two main groupings inside the Democratic Party and that the Clintons are at the head of the corporate component while the “left” is more fluid, anti-corporate, with a base in labor and the Black community and some of it behind Sanders. In that context, it becomes possible to broaden the critique of Secretary Clinton, to both portray her as a national leader and someone who is likely to “follow in Bill’s footsteps” – not because she is his wife, but because together they have forged the Clintonite strategy and led this section of the Democratic Party for two decades. Instead, the authors get into what amounts to a tit-for-tat.

In the same vein, the authors are off base when they question Webb’s statement on the need to go after center voters. It is a reality that the best outcome of these elections would be a massive victory for Clinton. That requires a strong Clinton vote from the center (and can we agree with Webb that  “[A Clinton landslide] would give a fresh impulse and a popular mandate to secure badly needed political, economic, and social reforms”?). I would add that there are political sectors who seek to depress turnout to limit Clinton’s mandate while still guaranteeing Trump’s defeat.

Still, the center is the least problematic element in the equation. Even the endorsements coming in from the right – John Negroponte’s is typical – are essentially easy pickings.

Instead, the key to a massive vote for Clinton is on the left – among progressives and independents. Here, support for Secretary Clinton is rocky. Here, emphasis on the Democratic Party platform is important, as is Sanders’ warning that “only street heat is going to change things. You can have the best person in the world as president and nothing will change without street heat.” But on this, the authors are silent, themselves falling into the trap of personalizing the electoral process, as if the individual candidate were more important than the sweep of history. She is not.

Secretary Clinton is a centrist. On the other hand, so was FDR, and he went down in history as the most ‘leftist’ president we ever had. It is enough to point these facts out – to break things down to a class-based narrative – to take the discourse to a higher, more solid footing. The authors do not do so.

Again: while Webb is correct on the need to fight the rabid right, he seems to miss the fact that we are poised on the brink of an historic victory against it. Nor do the authors pick up on Webb’s statement that the rabid right has its origins in Reaganism. Here, again, are missed opportunities: what is the essence of the fight against the rabid right? The authors might have pointed out that the fight is centered on a specific, anti-Keynesian, model of capitalist development. They do not.

I appreciate that there are differences with Webb’s analysis, but that does not negate the fact that he is on the left and that his is a powerful voice for progress. If he is to be critiqued, he should be critiqued on the issues. It is our collective job as a left to move our movement and country forward and that can only happen through thoughtful, reasoned debate.

Myke Simonian


Photo: Robert Reich speaking to Occupy San Francisco in 2011. | Jeff Chiu / AP