ISSN 2330-717X

Robert Reich: Leaving Labor 25 Years Ago – OpEd

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Someone just sent me the C-span recording of my talk to Labor Department employees, announcing I was leaving — almost exactly 25 years ago.

I don’t know if you have ever watched your former, younger self on C-span. It’s not like watching a home movie where you think “I had forgotten that lovely moment!” or “how much younger we were then!”

No. When you watch yourself on C-span 25 years ago, you see a public version of who you once were — the person who many people saw at that time. But what floods back into your mind most powerfully is the private person behind that public persona. The man who had to display calm and assurance because people needed to be calmed and assured, but who inside was sad and exhausted. The person who had to show confidence and strength but who inside felt fearful and shaky. Who for years had tried to do the right thing and occasionally succeeded but often ran into obstacles, enemies, and impasses in all directions. Who felt the immeasurable weight of trying to give voice to people left behind in an administration all too eager to respond to voices of people who had made it. Whose days were filled with meetings, receptions, official dinners, hearings, speeches, phone calls, travel to meet with this group or that group — but who often felt desperately alone. Who missed his family and looked forward to being back home with his boys, but also felt deeply anguished about leaving the best job he’d ever had.

You’re also brought back to that time and place, 25 years ago — Washington before politics turned intensely ugly, before Fox News and name-calling. Before Trump. A time when it was still possible for Republican and Democratic lawmakers to craft legislation together. Before Washington was overrun with corporate lobbyists and inundated with big money. And you’re brought back to the Department of Labor — to the dedicated career civil servants and committed political appointees, to the overriding sense we together were advancing the common good. The grueling hours. The frustrations. The fun of it. The nobleness of it. The kindness. The sacrifices. And your eyes mist up — you can’t help yourself — because it was a time and place like no other.

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Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. 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." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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