Interview with a Former Clinton Confidant Robert Reich 'McCain Can Sit Back and Enjoy the Spectacle'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under Bill Clinton, discusses the Democratic Party's self-destructive streak, mudslinging from the Hillary camp and his endorsement of Barack Obama.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama "has broken all fundraising records in terms of small contributions."

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama "has broken all fundraising records in terms of small contributions."

Robert Reich, 61, now a professor of politics at the University of California at Berkeley, served as labor secretary in the first administration of former President Bill Clinton and was a longtime friend of the Clintons. He's the fifth member of the former Clinton administration who has thrown his support behind Barack Obama. His most-recent book, "Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everyday Life," was published in Europe earlier this year. In a SPIEGEL interview, he discusses a political primary season that has been destructive for the Democratic Party and the prospects of a Obama-Clinton dream ticket.

SPIEGEL: The contest for the presidential candidacy between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is growing increasingly bitter, and there is no end in sight anytime soon. Did Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania last week change things?

Reich: Not much. Obama did better with the white working class in Pennsylvania than he did in Ohio, but he still has a way to go. Had Clinton won by more than 15 points, Obama's campaign would have been in trouble. He is still undoubtedly out in front.

SPIEGEL: Clinton doesn't appear to be ready to quit. Isn't the endless primary campaign damaging the party?

Reich: I hope it means that the public continues to be interested in what Democrats have to say. My fear is that Hillary Clinton will continue to sling mud. That will hurt her, it will also hurt Obama and it’s a real problem for the party.

SPIEGEL: What are you accusing her of?

Reich: Well, her emphasis on the unfortunate remarks by Obama’s pastor, combined with suggesting that she and John McCain could both be better commanders-in-chief than Obama, are all quite bad for the Democrats -- regardless of who is ultimately nominated.

SPIEGEL: Almost 30 percent of Democratic Hillary supporters say they would rather vote for McCain than for Obama. What’s wrong with your party?

Reich: Well, it’s hard to say. Feelings are running high. Hopefully, the Democrats will join together again and understand that the most important goal is not just to defeat McCain, but also to tackle the large problems the country faces.

SPIEGEL: McCain could be the laughing third party in this duel.

Reich: McCain can sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Particularly if the dirty campaign goes on past the beginning of June when the primaries are over. Then Clinton will be helping John McCain and increase the likelihood that he will become president.

Robert Reich: "The superdelegates have got to make a decision."

Robert Reich: "The superdelegates have got to make a decision."

SPIEGEL: Would you recommend that she drop out?

Reich: No. I think she should take the high road and stop slinging mud.

SPIEGEL: There's not a high probability of that happening.

Reich: A number of Democrats like myself have publicly criticized her and it is not helping her cause. So maybe she will stop.

SPIEGEL: Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean says he wants the uncommitted superdelegates to make their decisions by the end of June. Will they listen to him?

Reich: Well, the Democrats have been known to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory before, but they are not suicidal. The superdelegates have got to make a decision and those superdelegates who are in relatively safe districts where they don’t have to worry about re-election have nothing to lose. Their preference ought to be in line with the candidate who has got most of the pledged delegates.

SPIEGEL: Who in the Democratic Party has enough authority to tell the Clintons it's over?

Reich: No one. The Democratic Party is notoriously anti-authoritarian. I think that if former candidates John Edwards or Al Gore would come out publicly and endorse one candidate, that would be quite significant. It would push the superdelegates to make their decision more quickly. They should throw their weight behind Obama because to do otherwise would fly in the face of what the public has already said in terms of their pledged delegates.

SPIEGEL: Influential Democratic strategist and Clinton adviser James Carville called Bill Richardson a "Judas" for endorsing Obama. Doesn't that apply to you, too?

Reich: I was not going to endorse anyone. I thought for a long time that Obama’s policies were more sensible and I also have been enormously impressed with his ability to get young people enthusiastic. But it was the mudslinging from the Clinton camp that ultimately made it impossible for me to stay quiet.

SPIEGEL: Was there any reaction from the Clintons?

Reich: Not officially, not that I know of. I don’t care if someone calls me names. I have received a large number of e-mails, most of them favorable, some terribly unfavorable, a few of them downright hostile.

SPIEGEL: A lot of superdelegates and important members of the Democratic Party have turned away from the Clintons. Why?

Reich: Bill Clinton was an excellent president and Hillary would make a great president. It is less a matter of turning away from the Clintons than it is a matter of turning toward Obama, who represents a very different vision of and for America.

SPIEGEL: What does that mean in concrete terms?

Reich: Obama is inspiring the next generation of Americans. I haven’t seen this degree of excitement since Robert F. Kennedy ran for president. Nothing good happens in Washington unless the American public is energized to make it happen. Obama has broken all fundraising records in terms of small contributions. This is something remarkable.

SPIEGEL: But he didn't win the important big states like California, Texas or Pennsylvania.

Reich: He started from a disadvantaged position in states that have a lot of older white working class voters because they remember the Clinton Administration fondly. Their own income rose and their jobs became more secure.

SPIEGEL: Some voters seem to want to see Clinton and Obama on the same ticket. Is that realistic?

Reich: It is one thing for either a black or a women to run, but I am not sure America is quite ready for both a black and a woman to be on the same ticket. I wish I could be more optimistic. I can’t imagine that anyone would want to be vice president in a Clinton administration because, after all, Bill Clinton will be the effective vice president, if not vice president in name.

Interview conducted by Cordula Meyer.

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