Published on Friday, May 19, 2000 in the Washington Times
Former Clinton Labor Secretary Reich Rips Gore Campaign As Timid, 'Desperate'
by Donald Lambro
Former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich has accused Vice President Al Gore of running a timid, desperate, "status quo" presidential campaign that is in danger of letting Texas Gov. George W. Bush win "by default."
In a stinging broadside attack against Mr. Gore, with whom he worked in the Clinton administration, Mr. Reich said that the vice president's campaign was devoid of any big new ideas that would excite the party.
"Al Gore's problem is that he's acting as if he's desperate to be president, but sounding as if he doesn't want to do anything new once elected," he said.
"America wants to move forward. If the Democratic candidate for president represents little more than the status quo, he won't be president," Mr. Reich writes in the latest issue of the American Prospect.
Mr. Reich's attack triggered an equally sharp response from Gore supporters who dismissed his complaints as the last gasp of the Democratic Party's ultraleft wing that thinks Mr. Gore isn't liberal enough for them.
"Robert Reich is a lefty. If he and his other liberal friends had been in charge of our party, we would not have won the presidency in 1992 and 1996," said Garry South, a key point man in Mr. Gore's California campaign.
For the past couple of months, there has been increasing back-room grumbling among some Democrats that Mr. Gore's campaign was unfocused, lacked a message and still had not nailed down his party's base.
Mr. Reich's latest criticism suggested that this view was growing stronger among the party's liberal wing.
"Talk about a mixed message. Voters could understand why someone would be driven to get into the Oval Office if he were intent on making a lot of changes. But Gore's message has been that we should stay the course. Keep cutting the deficit. Don't tinker with Social Security. Don't take any risks," Mr. Reich said.
"Right now, Bush's vision wins by default simply because it dares to be new and different," he said. "Gore is losing ground because he's not talking about what could be. He's riding on what is."
Writing in the June 5 issue of the publication, which is devoted to promoting liberal ideas, Mr. Reich said that Mr. Bush "isn't rolling over in response to Gore's attacks. He's fighting back."
Mr. Gore, on the other hand, "is fighting to preserve the status quo," a position that Mr. Reich said had failed to animate and excite his party's base. "Who wants to go to battle on these grounds?" he said.
Mr. Reich, who left office after the 1996 election and is now teaching at Brandeis University, complained that while Mr. Gore was taking credit for the strong economy, big businesses were laying off middle-age managers "in droves."
"Shouldn't the vice president, as the presumptive Democratic nominee, have some big ideas on what to do about this?"
Mr. Reich surprised the White House last fall when he endorsed former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley for the Democratic presidential nomination. In an article in the New Republic in March, Mr. Reich said that the vice president was "to the right of Bradley on almost every important issue."
The article characterized Mr. Gore's position on paying down the debt, even in a recession, as "worse than Reaganomics. It's Coolidgeomics."
Mr. Bradley laid out a far more liberal agenda in his ill-fated campaign for the nomination and since his withdrawal in March, many of his supporters still have not embraced Mr. Gore's candidacy.
"There's no question that Bob Reich's article reflects the frustration of a lot of Democrats," said Jeff Faux, a Democratic activist and president of the Economic Policy Institute.
"After eight years of being good soldiers, there are a lot of Democrats who are getting restless. We've been playing defense for so long, it's about time we had an inspiring agenda and we haven't had that from Gore," Mr. Faux said.
"The frustration has been there for a long time with Clinton. His proposal to invest in the country's needs disappeared after the first year. We didn't like it, but we know the politics of the situation," Mr. Faux said.
"Now we have Al Gore saying that we have to reduce the deficit to zero and that puts him to the right of Herbert Hoover," he said.
This frustration comes while Mr. Gore is running 5 to 8 percentage points behind Mr. Bush in national polls and the vice president is behind in a number of states that Democrats usually take for granted.
"The polls are telling us something. When you have union members saying they would vote for Bush over Gore, there's something wrong with his campaign," Mr. Faux said.