Robert Reich speaks at Harvard


Shortly before losing last night’s Massachusetts gubernatorial primary to State Treasurer Shannon P. O’Brien, former labor secretary Robert Reich wrapped up his campaign for the Democratic nomination with a speech to an eager crowd of over 100 Harvard students in the University’s Science Center. Reich marked the address with a strong emphasis on what he saw as three crises in Massachusetts. He began with an issue familiar to most candidates seeking political office this year: fiscal responsibility.

“The state,” Reich said, “has chosen to balance the budget on those with the least political power.” He argued that with taxes high and quality of government low, there is an opportunity for real reform in the system.

Reich also highlighted the cynicism of the electorate toward government, which he saw as the biggest enemy for reforming the system, underscoring the challenge he would have as governor in keeping the public motivated and engaged in the political realm.

The final crises Reich accentuated were the social injustices that he sees as contributing to the ever-widening chasm between rich and poor. Reich argued that in more and more families, both spouses are working full time but are still below the poverty line. He urged the assembled crowd “to spend at least part of your life . . . in battle for social justice.”

At one point in his speech, Reich imparted how he was influenced to run for governor after visiting a University religion class at the end of last year. As he walked out of the class into Harvard Yard thinking about September 11th and the life of the mind, Reich said he decided then and there to run for governor of Massachusetts.

Reich concluded his comments with a look to the election. “The public is yearning . . . for somebody who is telling it like it is, has ideas . . . and is taking some stands that may not be popular,” such as gay marriage and raising the capital gains tax, he said. “I cannot guarantee we will win on Tuesday, but I can say I feel a great wind at my back.”

Initial reactions from several students after the speech were positive. “I was particularly impressed by his desire to champion the cause of grass-roots organizations and to bring a sense of responsibility to individual communities and their ideals,” 1L Danielle Osler said.

Mike McCarthy, an undergraduate at Harvard, admitted that going into the speech he unsure about Reich as a candidate. But, he said, “the more I hear him speak, the more I am inclined to vote for him.”

Sonia Kastner, president of Harvard College Democrats, said she was pleased with Reich’s comments on budget changes and on what constitutes a leader. “I was extremely impressed with him.”

After his defeat, a message on Reich’s web site sounded a conciliatory note. “Every one of you should be proud of what we accomplished,” it said. “We didn’t attack, didn’t resort to negatives, always kept our eyes on the ideas and vision we shared for the future, stayed honest, brought thousands of people into politics who’d never been involved before or who hadn’t been involved in many years, and raised issues that needed to be raised.”

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