Picks and Pans Review: Locked in the Cabinet
by Robert B. Reich
In 1968, while crossing the Atlantic to study at Oxford, Bill Clinton offered the seasick Robert B. Reich a bowl of chicken soup. Twenty-four years later, Clinton made Reich—by then a Harvard lecturer—a more problematic offer: The President-elect invited his old friend to serve as Secretary of Labor.
Locked in the Cabinet is Reich’s appealing, yet ultimately disheartening, memoir of what the idealistic economist endured between his arrival in Washington and his resignation four years later. Determined to improve working conditions and raise the minimum wage, Reich ran into a series of brick walls: a government he felt was obsessed with balancing the budget at the expense of social welfare; politicians more interested in placating Wall Street than in addressing the concerns of the middle and working classes; and a Byzantine system of influence and power that controlled and curtailed his access to the President.
Throughout his readable, informative, evenhanded book, Reich is temperate in his criticism of Clinton, yet he shows us a leader increasingly distracted and unwilling to fight for his beliefs and who (as the 1996 election approached) seemed to be gravitating “toward a black hole whose pull is overwhelming…The black hole is Dick Morris.” Nor is the political consultant the author calls cynical and unscrupulous the only villain of the piece; Reich barely conceals his contempt for Newt Gingrich and Alan Greenspan.
By the time Reich decided to return to teaching and a life that would permit him more time with family, he had come to a sobering conclusion: The realities of governmental politics can diffuse and eventually defeat the most idealistic intentions. (Knopf, $25)