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Robert Reich writes: "Washington was built on a swamp. In the summer, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees - as they did over the last few days when I made the rounds of Washington Democrats, repeatedly asking why no bold jobs plan is emerging."

Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)

The Swamp of Washington

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

13 June 11


The swamp of Washington and the morass of the economy.

ashington was built on a swamp. In the summer, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees - as they did over the last few days when I made the rounds of Washington Democrats, repeatedly asking why no bold jobs plan is emerging.

Here's a sample of their responses:

"Dead in the water. We'll be lucky if we get votes to raise the debt ceiling without major spending cuts this year and next."

"Are you kidding? It's all budget deficit, budget deficit, budget deficit. Nobody's thinking about anything else."

"Republicans beat us up so bad over the first stimulus there's no way we're gonna try for a second."

"We got them [Republicans] cornered on Medicare. Now they want to change the subject to jobs. Forget it."

"No need. We'll see job growth in the second half of the year."

"The President doesn't want to put anything on the table he can't get through Congress."

And so it went. Not a shred of urgency.

This morning I was on ABC's "This Week," debating jobs and the economy with Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. Shelby restated the standard Republican playbook of spending cuts and tax cuts (except for one instant when he inadvertently conceded America emerged from the Great Depression only when government spent big time mobilizing the nation for World War II).

But what struck me most was the similarity between Shelby's overall attitude and that of the Democrats I talked with - a kind of shrug of the shoulders, a sense that it's really not all that bad out there, and that nothing can be done anyway. (In the green room, before going on, Shelby told me employment in northern Alabama was actually fairly good and the problem was near the coast.)

The recovery is stalling across the nation yet in the Washington swamp it's business as usual.

Americans are scared, with reason. We're in a vicious cycle in which lower wages and net job losses and high debt are causing consumers to cut their spending - which is causing businesses to cut back on hiring and reduce pay. There's no way out of this morass without bold leadership from Washington to rekindle consumer demand.

If the Democrats remain silent, the vacuum will be filled by the Republican snake oil of federal spending cuts and cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy. Democrats - starting with the President - must have the courage and conviction to tell the nation the recovery is stalling, and what must be done.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on and iTunes. your social media marketing partner


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+33 # hwatt 2011-06-13 22:10
"If the Democrats remain silent, the vacuum will be filled by the Republican snake oil of federal spending cuts and cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy. Democrats - starting with the President - must have the courage and conviction to tell the nation the recovery is stalling, and what must be done."

Unfortunately, I don't see the President doing this. This is as D.O.A. as Single Payor Healthcare. There is no sense of urgency from these guys inside the Beltway because they all have jobs. If there was any way not to vote for Obama and keep the GOP out of the White House, I would do it. He has completely dropped the ball on jobs, among other things, allowing the GOP and Teabaggers to frame the argument around the deficit. I have been unemployed for 72 weeks. College degree and 20 years experience and I can't get a job.
No problem, let's see how they handle breadlines and the resultant insurrection.
+19 # DPM 2011-06-13 22:20
Republicans. Democrats. Two sides of the same coin.
+13 # epcraig 2011-06-14 04:13
The first thing Obama needs to do is come up with a plan to get us out of Bush's Depression.
+11 # dlet60 2011-06-14 04:40
How about 2 heads of a 2 headed snake that is eating (the) US?
+4 # Josippie 2011-06-14 06:42
Washington DC -- starting Oct 6
+9 # J.Lind 2011-06-14 06:53
They {the politicians} have made their own "hell"...and WE burn in it while they go to the gym and get their tans.

The Washington DC Bordello is in full heat.
+8 # miltlau 2011-06-14 07:25
Professor Reich's economic comments are spot on, but is only intellectualizi ng. On the political front, he offers nothing but complaints and calling for Democrats to tell the nation that the recovery is stalling. We don't need to be told that: it's in the news every day. What we need is leadership to rally the public against the takeover of our government and our economy by the super-rich. We thought that we had that in Obama, but he abandoned his promise to raise taxes on the rich and has agreed to shrink the safety net for the less fortunate.

The bankers are still at it! We are headed for an economic cataclysm worse than the Great Depression!

Professor Reich: The issue is how to reduce the power of the oligarchs and to bring back government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Do you have any practical recommendations for how to do that?
+8 # tomo 2011-06-14 12:00
Here in California, we've got a Congressman, John Garamendi, who comes across a lot like Obama did in 2008. The difference is, he seems to mean it. He is the only member in a congressional committee who voted recently against the military budget. The vote was something like 20 to 1. His reason: we simply can't afford this madness. Progressives don't need to abandon the values they voted for in 2008. If they ever hope to see those values realized, they must abandon Obama. He's not just having difficulty promoting those values; he belongs to the other side--and is just as unethical and deceptive in his ways as Lee Atwater or Karl Rove ever was.
+16 # BradFromSalem 2011-06-14 08:05
Amazing revelation by Proffesor Reich. The Republicans control the debate and the Democrats let them. Actually, I think we all knew it, but this article/blog provides the evidence.

The Democrats don't realize, they get beat up by the Republicans because they let the Republicans control the debate. Its the insular world they all live in. Where the MSM is treated as a stand-in for the American public.

Democrats must take it to the people. Jobs are way, way more inmportant than the decficit. Solving the defioit without creating jobs does less good than sticking your finger in a dike to prevent a flood. It won't work.

Democrats just have to repeat over and over whenever an idiotic Republican insists on deficit reduction or tax decreases; three little words the American public is waiting to hear. "AMERICAN JOBS FIRST"

Then submit a 21st Century WPA.

+1 # boudreaux 2011-06-14 08:49
There are no more hero's in this country.
+6 # bracero 2011-06-14 09:47
President Obama and the democrats sold us out after his first election when they promised "single payer health insurance". Then turned around and said "it had no chance of passage" once they got in power with out even giving it a chance. They followed that up with failing to take any kind of action whatsoever on unemployment and to this day have taken no action on the millions of people who are unemployed. Well whatsoever you sew that shall you also reap. Come election day they will wonder where all the votes went from 2009. They have left us nothing to vote for in 2012. All I hear is the same tired old promises I heard in 2009. Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.
+6 # boudreaux 2011-06-14 10:18
The recovery is stalling b/c we don't have any fucking jobs here, they have all been sold to other countries and then congress doesn't even try to help the little guy in business. This is the only country in the world that has sold out and left us without a pot to piss in. I'm so damned mad about it and ashamed of what we call goverment. They are the only ones surviving here.
+2 # Glenn Caton 2011-06-16 13:25
No, I'm sorry. Every developed nation save one followed us down the same rathole. That nation is Brazil. They have always realized that the surest path to insolvency is to outsource everything and live on speculation. They know that the only way to economic security is to be able to be fully self sufficient if all trade was to end tomorrow. They know that if you want to sell it here, you need to make it here. They know that if they are to have consumers, they have to have well-paid workers. The little guy in business gets screwed constantly by all his vendors and many elements of his local community, but he needs to ask himself: am I paying my workers enough to live comfortably by them-self. I know that, in this community that is generally not the case. If we are to remain a viable society we need to make sure that our neighbors are not in debt or in want. That starts by ensuring adequate pay. We need to abandon politics and vote with our wallets. We need to buy well-made American goods produced by well-paid workers. We need to stay out of stores that have less than 70% domestic products on their shelves. That is how you effect change. Stay out of Washington. You don't go to a bordello to find a virgin.
+9 # Sallyport 2011-06-14 11:08
A strong threat from the left is the only thing that will move Obama & all the other tame democrats off the dime. When they can no longer haul out the conventional wisdom that progressives have nowhere else to go (than to follow the lesse- of-two-evils garden path), they will twig to the fact that they can't win a competition for the right wing vote against the corporations, reactionaries & wingnuts. We need a real People's Party with a robust socialist component.
+4 # tomo 2011-06-14 12:10
Sallyport: what I fear is that whatever supporters Obama loses on the left (and he deserves to lose ALL of them I think), he will recoup on the right. I suppose the Birthers and the he's-a-secret-M uslim crowd and the he's-a-socialis t crowd will never vote for him; but my hunch is that there are still people close to the top of our oligarchy who realize and deeply appreciate his steady support IN DEEDS (whatever his words may say) of corporate interests and agendas to manipulate many on the right into voting for him. David Brooks, for heaven's sake, consistently finds much to praise in what Obama does!
+4 # rm 2011-06-14 12:29
You got it wrong, Robert Reich. Washington is not a swamp -- it is a sewer. And it is filled with sewer rats, errr members of congress.

The US government (and all mainstream media) measure the health of the economy by the health of wall street and the fortune 500 corporations. If they are making money, then things are fine. The idea that unemployment is near 10% and underemployment is at least twice that just does not matter at all in the sewer of Congress. Members of congress don't represent the unemployed. They represent the corporations which bought the office for them.

The only reason anyone is squealing about the deficit and the national debt is that they want to lower the living standards of the middle and poor classes. They want to cut government spending that actually benefits the 98% of Americans who are not millionaires. In reality, they don't care about debt or deficits; they are just a pretext for tranfering more money to the ruling elites.

It is pointless to make the argument that Reich is making. No one in the sewer of Washington cares. This will have to be resolved at the local level -- state governments are nearly as bad as Washington. Cities need to hear Reich's arguments.
+5 # Capn Canard 2011-06-14 13:36
well, one thing that keeps us mired in this swamp is our refusal to keep revenues flowing and to keep a close watch on corporate actions. If we don't regulate BIG business those businesses will leave the USA and there won't be any jobs, all communities will be mostly ghettoes with gated enclaves of ultra wealthy. Thanks to Milton Friedman that is our future under the Republican's plan of subcontracted Disaster Capitalism.
+2 # D12345 2011-06-15 16:31
For reasons that I don't claim to completely understand, it seems to be impossible to mobilize the unemployed, underemployed, uninsured. The people Reich is speaking with are politicians. They aren't heroes or activists. They respond to political pressure.

40+ million without insurance
how many million unemployed
how many students with dim hopes

But outside of Wisconsin, there isn't a demonstration in sight.

I am not casting blame...but without huge public protest, the super wealthy will continue to run roughshod over the rest of America.
+1 # Glenn Caton 2011-06-16 13:43
The best protest is to shun the rich. Pay them no attention. Buy nothing from them. Sell nothing to them. Refuse to work for them. Leave when they arrive. Let store owners know that you will not shop in their store when a rich person is present. Get up and leave a restaurant when a rich person enters. Post photos of the rich every where. We have spent too long forgiving, denying, worshiping, and sucking up to them. What has it produced? 73% of our people living in actual poverty while less than 2% control the bulk of wealth. We should feel that wanting to be rich is like wanting to be a child molester.

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