Onto 2004's already crowded political non-fiction bookshelf, comes Reason
by former Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich. It's a call to arms for liberals and progressives against what Reich terms the "Radcons", radical conservatives who combine the aggressive "neoconservative" foreign policy of Richard Perle and Robert Kagan with an insistence on interfering with private morality, all the while eliminating social safety nets. At times, it seems like Reich is trying to have it both ways: he condemns the Radcons for being judgmental and demonizing those with whom they disagree but, in the process, he often does some demonizing of his own in his summarization of their philosophies. Reich's arguments are most persuasive when he takes the approach of the Radcons but turns them around. Yes, he says, morality is crucial to the survival and prosperity of the United States, but instead of worrying about what people do in their own bedrooms, we should focus on public morality, especially as it pertains to overpaid CEOs, corrupt corporations, and the government's tacit approval of them. Despite his long history with the Democrats, or perhaps because of it, Reich saves some of his most pointed criticisms for his own party. He assails the Democrats for ceding the ongoing electoral struggle to the Republicans (and the Radcons, naturally). It's stupid, says Reich, to pursue a centrist approach to capturing the voting blocs necessary to achieve victory in the White House or congress because there is actually no such thing as centrism. Instead, there is a shift in the political dialogue as the right tacks further rightward and drags victory-hungry Democrats with it, thus alienating and ultimately disenfranchising the substantial liberal electorate. Reich ultimately sees good news for liberals on the horizon, however. While he thinks millions of Americans are fed up with the overly cautious Democratic Party that won't stand up for it's progressive principals, they are even wearier of the Radcons and "their intolerance, their mean-spiritedness, their moral righteousness, and their arrogance toward the rest of the world." --John Moe
From 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.
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