Sam Webb doesn’t get Robert Reich

This article has been updated to correct factual and grammatical errors.

As supporters of Hillary Clinton, we disagree with some of the assertions and implications in Sam Webb’s opinion piece, Robert Reich on Hillary Clinton: too smug, too sexist, which is his critique of a Robert Reich blog. For example, he says that “Hillary-hating…is nearly a national pastime” and implies that Hillary Clinton herself did not play a key role in Bill Clinton’s administration.

If hating Hillary were truly a “national pastime,” we supporters might get discouraged. However, we are bolstered by opinion polls from around the country that show Clinton is, for the most part, ahead of Donald Trump.

In taking issue with Reich, Webb implies that Hillary Clinton was less than an equal partner in the Bill Clinton administration with statements such as “Reich…assumes that what Bill did, Hillary will do. In other words, she has to not only pay for the sins of her husband, but, as a dutiful woman and wife, she is programmed to repeat them.”

By implying that Hillary, herself, separately and as an individual did not play a leading, responsible role in the Clinton administration, Webb is actually discounting one of the most important items on her resume and one of the reasons we believe she is so well prepared to be president.

No one we know says Hillary Clinton “has to pay for the sins of her husband.” She, herself, in all her speeches takes full responsibility for the central role she played in Bill’s administration. To deny that she was an equal partner is to deny her credit for efforts such as trying to establish universal health care.

Webb states “Reich (and some others on the left)…are far more likely to critique – at times blast – [Clinton]. I guess they think that to do otherwise might leave them open to criticism from others on the left, thereby tarnishing what is most precious to them – their progressive and radical credentials.”

We think Webb is shadow boxing a specter he calls “some on the left.”

He presents no evidence that Reich is pandering to the left. And he does not say who exactly are the “some others on the left.”

We doubt that Reich feels a need to protect his “credentials,” radical or otherwise. As a nationally-known liberal thinker he has never, to our knowledge, identified himself as a “radical.”

Contrary to Webb’s assertion, nowhere in his piece does Reich lock “Hillary into a tightly constructed political category from which he allows her no space to escape.”

On the contrary, Reich is giving Clinton advice he thinks she needs to win. He obviously thinks she is flexible enough to make changes. Furthermore, in other pieces he’s written, Reich has fully described how the Clinton campaign has changed in ideas and tone.

Webb seems to take the approach that the only good Hillary supporter is a Hillary-right-or-wrong supporter. But, to paraphrase one of the best known quotes in American history, Reich believes in “Hillary right or wrong. If right, to keep her right, if wrong to make her right.”

Webb criticizes Reich, accusing him of being “sexist” and “smug.” Those characterizations are not really descriptive, we think, of the arguments made by Reich.

Webb also says, “Reich brings no evidence to bear on his claim that Clinton is tacking to the right.”

Perhaps Reich assumes his readers already have some evidence of that. He might be thinking that they see the newspapers or listen to the news on TV or radio or see it on the Internet. In recent weeks, among other things, Hillary has asked Henry Kissinger and George W. Bush’s former Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, for their endorsements.

The media has also widely reported that Hillary is courting “moderate” voters.

Is there something “wrong with this?” Webb asks.

Reich’s position is that formulating a strategy to reach “moderate” voters is counter-productive because, Reich says, “There are no longer ‘moderates.’ There’s no longer a ‘center.’ There’s authoritarian populism (Trump) or democratic populism (which had been Bernie’s ‘political revolution,’ and is now up for grabs).”

Reich says he’s worried that Hillary Clinton does not get that the “biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left.” He’s worried that Hillary doesn’t get that the “biggest divide in American politics is…between the anti-establishment and the establishment.”

Reich is well qualified to describe the ideas and attitudes of both Clintons. He knew them during their college years and they have remained friends ever since.

Webb agrees that “the establishment/anti-establishment idea has increasingly fractured U.S. politics and shapes popular thinking.” Therefore, one would assume that Webb would urge Clinton to zero in on this “popular thinking.” That’s what candidates do to win elections.

Webb assures us that, “The biggest divide – and Clinton clearly understands this well – has never been between the right and left.” But he implies that her outlook adheres to his own view that “the main political division…is between right-wing extremism on the one side and a broad, diverse, multi-class people’s movement on the other.”

Webb seems to think there’s a difference between what he calls a “people’s movement” and what Reich calls a movement for “democratic populism.” We think that the difference between the two formulations is mainly a rhetorical one, not a real one. But in election campaigns, language means a lot.

Photo: AP


Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.