This is the first half of the transcript of my interview with Adolph Reed Jr., transcribed by the podcast published here.
R.K.: And welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township Reaching Metro Philly and South Jersey. Also available on iTunes as a podcast under my name, Rob Kall K-AL-L or at opednews.com/podcasts and the sponsor is opednews.com. My guest tonight is Adolph Reed Jr. He is a professor of Political Science at University of Pennsylvania. He is the editor of Race, Politics and Culture: Critical Essays on the Radicalism of the 1960s and Without Justice for All: The New Liberalism and our Retreat from Racial Equality.
He's been a columnist for The Progressive and The Village Voice, and has written frequently for The Nation and he has a feature article out in this month's March issue of Harper's, Nothing Left, The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals. Race and 20th-Century American Political Social Thought Power, Culture, and American Cities and Labor and the Left in Postwar American Politics. Welcome to the show.
A.R.: Thanks for having me, I'm quite happy to be on.
R.K.: I should add you just recently were on the Bill Moyers show, too. So, in your article you describe a desiccated hollowed out vaporous left. That's pretty brutal.
A.R.: Well, I don't know. I mean, I assume that you and the regular listeners, um you look around and what one sees from perusing the landscape is that we've lost a heck of a lot. I mean I, granted 1944 is a long time ago but I've been rehearsing lately that in a Roper Poll about a month before the 1944 Presidential Election, 68% of Americans, or respondents said that they would not support a political and economic system no matter what it's called that didn't guarantee to every person who was willing and able to work, the right to a job.
And when you think of how far we've come since then for instance, it's been a long way. And there's no question whether we've made progress, a lot of progress along many dimensions but I think one of the reasons that we've wound up where we are now is that the victories that we've won have largely been won in the context of a larger framework of defeat.
So that we've, and the nature of that defeat ultimately has been disconnecting the notions of a just society from ideals of economic equality or political economic justice, economic security for the entire population.
R.K.: Well okay, a couple things. One, what you just described as what the 68% of the people wanted back in Roosevelt's time is very similar to what E. F. Schumacher described in his book, Small is Beautiful and his chapter on Buddhist Economics. The idea that economics for the people is one where everybody has an opportunity to work.
A.R.: Right. Right. That's true. I mean, it's funny, I haven't thought about Schumacher in a long time and haven't really thought about him in that context but I think that's right.
And I mean, the idea, the next year, 1945 the Senate passed, it failed in the House the Full Employment bill that would have mandated the Federal Government to take action, to make full employment the cornerstone of American Economic Policy which included a mandate to take action through public spending and jobs programs, public works employment if the unemployment rate hit 3% going upwards with an eventual goal of you getting it down to 2%.
That's a far cry from today as I understand it economists are talking about the 6%, even with the funny way that they count unemployment now as a natural threshold of unemployment for our economy.
R.K.: Yeah and I just did an article within the last two weeks that economists are kind of talking that we ought to get used to the idea of that level of unemployment. That's the new reality.
A.R.: I saw that too and it's a heck of a thing. But of course, and that says everything about political power, right? Because that's what shapes, ultimately, common sense that prevails among elites.
I've also often noted, I must admit impishly, that progressives interest got more from Richard Nixon than we've gotten from either Clinton or Obama and it's not because Nixon was on our side, but it's because the social forces in labor movements, civil rights movements, emerging women's movements were social forces that he felt he needed to respond to in some way or, in other words, were strong enough that he felt he needed to respond.