1 Quotation, 2 Interpretations

Lucy Gellman PhotoMilford, N.H. — Robert Reich offered a powerful argument for voting for Hillary Clinton for president — or else for voting for Bernie Sanders.

On back to back days on the New Hampshire campaign trail, supporters of each Democratic presidential candidate invoked a quotation from the former U.S. labor secretary and current UC Berkeley professor to make their case.

A version of Reich’s quotation has gone viral on the Internet: “Hillary has the experience to run the system we have. Bernie is the guy for the system we want.’”

Assembling campaign materials at a Sanders headquarters in Milford, N.H. to begin a canvas on Sunday, Hartford attorney and activist Ken Krayeske cited that version of the Reich quotation in response to a question about his reaction to a New York Times endorsement of Clinton.

“I want a new politics in this country,” Krayeske said. “I want every city in the United States to have a model like New Haven’s public campaign financing program, the Democracy Fund. Do I think that Hillary’s going to get me closer to that reality? I think Bernie is the one pushing policies like free college tuition and ending student debt, things that affect all of us. Whereas I feel like Hillary is on the campaign trail talking to Goldman Sachs. Her experience is on the board of directors of Walmart.”

One day earlier and 35 miles to the west, ex-C.I.A. officer Valerie Plame paraphrased the quotation to make a radically different point.

“I don’t want to say anything derogatory about her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders,” Plame remarked to a group of volunteers who had gathered for a lunchtime pep-talk in the Clinton campaign’s Keene, N.H. headquarters. “But I was really taken by Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, who said the other day: ‘Bernie Sanders would be a wonderful president for the world we wish we had.’ Free education, free healthcare. But that is not reality. Hillary, to my mind, is the one who is going to be able to take the crazy world that we have and navigate it with confidence and with poise.”

Which interpretation is correct? What does Reich really think about the candidates?

Reich did not respond to requests for comment. [Update: He posted this article Wednesday on his Facebook page and added this comment: “I meant every word. Hillary is clearly the most qualified candidate for the system we now have. Bernie is clearly the most qualified to create the system we should have and need. I don’t find that confusing in the least. Do you?”]

The quotation that both Krayeske and Plame were referencing came from a blog post that Reich posted to his website on Jan. 25 seeking to identify the fundamentally different theories of governance offered by establishment and outsider candidates in the 2016 presidential race.

“I’ve known Hillary Clinton since she was 19 years old, and have nothing but respect for her,” Reich wrote on his blog. “In my view, she’s the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have. But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change.”

Another slightly different version appears on Reich’s Facebook page: “The fundamental choice facing Democrats starting today in Iowa is not between Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. It’s between accepting what’s feasible under our current political-economic system—where wealth and power are more concentrated at the top than they’ve been in over a century – or changing that system to make it function for the vast majority. In my view, Hillary is best equipped to manage the system we now have. She’s a product of that system; her vast experience and keen insight derive from it. But Bernie Sanders is best equipped to create the system we should have. He has spent most of his life fighting for it, and is now leading a movement to change it.”

For Plame and the Clinton campaigners, Reich’s quotation points to the importance of electing a president capable of working within the current political system to achieve practical, feasible changes. For Krayeske and the Sanders campaigners, Reich’s quotation highlights the integrity and mass appeal of their candidate’s vision for the country, and hinted at the moral bankruptcy and financial corruption of their opponent’s.

Reich’s website, which contains post with titles like “Six Responses to Bernie Skeptics,” suggests that the American voting public should not concede too quickly to the strictures of politics-as-usual.

But these two candidates, though both Democrats, present very different visions for how this country should work, and for how it should be governed. And for two campaigns with such substantive differences, both in policy and approach, every quotation, even the same quotation, becomes subject to varying interpretation and debate.

Click on or download the audio above to listen to a sound collage of Krayeske and Plame riffing on the same Robert Reich quotation.

Lucy Gellman contributed reporting.

Lucy Gellman and Thomas Breen are spending the week in New Hampshire with canvassers, campaign staffers and volunteers, and candidates. The above audio file is just one installment in a playlist of many voices from the road.

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posted by: robn on February 2, 2016  11:01am

Nice to see that Ms Plame has finally brushed Dick Cheney’s bus tire tracks off her back. I agree with her. With the most oppositional congress that a Democrat president will ever face, Dems have to elect somebody can that make enough political compromises so that some law making will get done during their presidency. The only way Sen Sanders is going to accomplish his agenda is by dissolving Congress.

posted by: HewNaven on February 2, 2016  11:41am

Robert Reich is the only surviving ‘voice of reason’ from the Clinton era. He makes more sense than anyone.

posted by: Atwater on February 2, 2016  12:47pm

Sanders’ platform is not so much about the specific policies, though they are important. His campaign and his platform are supposed to be the vanguard of a greater political revolution that will hopefully change Congress so that truly progressive social and economic programs can be established. Even if he is defeated in the Primary, Sanders’ example should push Progressives to remain committed to the ideas of radical change through elections.

This election is a confrontation of ideology, progressivism versus reactionary conservative-libertarianism (and neo-liberalism). This is a fight that must be fought, centrism has served only to benefit corporations, insurance companies, billionaires and career politicians.

posted by: Marion on February 2, 2016  2:00pm

Been listening to Sanders rant away about campaign finance laws, “wall street,”  “citizens united” and billionaires financing and picking our leaders yadda yadda. Did it occur to anyone that Jeb Bush, awash in corporate, establishment, and special interest mega-millions in campaign funds, can’t get any votes with it.  And that for all of Hillary’s financial arsenal from similar sources, Bernie Sanders is kicking her butt with no PACS, no “wall street” or corporate financing, and campaign coffers having an average individual contribution of $27.00?  (Kinda like Obama did, twice).  Election records are filled with good candidates, astronomically out-funded, winning elections because people like them and their messages.  Seems to me that the Wall Street and Citizens United rhetoric is just bogeyman stuff.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 2, 2016  2:15pm

I feel bad for the people of Nevada. Iowa was basically a tie, with Clinton winning the estimated popular vote by 0.2%. Sanders is going to win New Hampshire, Clinton is going to win South Carolina, and then all hell will break out in Nevada as they fight for votes

posted by: Atwater on February 2, 2016  3:18pm

You’re wrong. Sanders is an exception to the rule. Just the fact that he needs 3 million individual donations to go up against HRC should prove that there is a significant imbalance. But, don’t take my word for it. Read this: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746

And this: https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf

posted by: robn on February 2, 2016  4:19pm


I think you’re right about NV being a madhouse but the reality is that South Carolina will most likely be in line with where the nation will go (towards HC)...plus assuming that BS picks up NH’s 4 electoral votes, SC has 15. After HC wins SC, she’ll have 22 to BS’s 4.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 2, 2016  7:46pm

But electoral college votes don’t matter, this isnt the general election. Its all about party delegates. Its likely after NH that their delegate count each will be near tied for pledged delegates(but Hillary has a large superdelegate lead right now)

posted by: robn on February 3, 2016  11:03am


You’re right. Even the Republicans who used to have a winner take all delgate system, now have a mixture of proportional allotment. The Dems I read are mostly proportional but rules vary state to state.

posted by: Marion on February 3, 2016  11:48am

@Atwater:  No, you’re wrong, because you miss my entire point, which is that our leaders are not elected by “billionaires” or corporate money as Sanders often claims. Hillary won Iowa by a coin toss to break delegate ties.  What does that tell you?  And in 2010 and 2012, a host of downticket candidates won with a fraction of the money donated to their opponents by corporate interests and billionaires.  No matter how many millions Hillary Clinton amasses, if people don’t like her, don’t trust her, and don’t want her, they won’t elect her.

posted by: Fabio on February 3, 2016  1:00pm

There are NOT two meanings here but two choices: stay in this current system or be bold and move on to a better one. Robert Reich has been advocating for the latter while Valerie Plame prefers to stay with the former. The course of the last 30 years has been bad for the middle class, even with Obama and Bill Clinton in the White House for half of this period. So I will keep voting for the new system in the primaries, and if Hillary wins then I will have to vote for Hillary in the general to avoid greater damage from a Republican president. Rinse and repeat until things are bad enough so change will eventually be demanded.

posted by: fixbrokenstuff on February 3, 2016  1:57pm

For the most part, Obama gave up on compromise years ago, because he realized that it’s not possible with the current Republican domination. Instead, he has found ways to navigate around the system through executive orders and such. I believe that Hillary and Bernie would both need to follow the same strategy with the current state of affairs. Compromise will not work. Sanders recently collaborated with Elizabeth Warren and others to mobilize the FCC—going around Congress—to break up the monopoly that cable companies have on set-top-box rentals. It’ll save every person who has Cable TV about $240 per year, or $14B per year for all Americans. Look up the article on Huffington Post. This is a small, recent example of how Sanders is able to navigate around the current system. It will take time to root out the corruption, but with Sanders, it will be possible. Until then, I’m confident that Bernie Sanders will find more creative ways to make things happen for the American people, the middle class, and people in poverty, including neighborhoods with racial minority populations.

posted by: jerryk48 on February 3, 2016  2:00pm

In no way did Robert Reich’s statement say vote for Hillary. He is saying tif you want someone to move us away from the status quo, Bernie is the person. And to be quite frank, Hillary is just a republican in sheep’s clothing. She is in the pocket of Big Corporations and Banks.Bernie isn’t!

posted by: eporterfield11 on February 3, 2016  2:10pm

Professor Reich was quite clear in his intention and any creative interpretation by Ms. Plame is purely a figment of her imagination.  Hillary is a status quo candidate, who is aligned with Big Business, Big Pharma, Wall Street, Big Insurance, Big Ag.  Her husband is responsible for repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.  What could have been friendlier to Wall Street?  She voted for the Iraq War.  She is a humanitarian hawk - she believes we should intervene wherever people’s freedoms are in jeopardy.  We don’t have enough money to be the policemen of the world.  So far I haven’t seen any policy positions that state what she would do differently to regulate the “Bigs” mentioned above.  Obamacare has problems and was flawed from the beginning.  Bernie champions a universal system that we know works - Medicare.  She opposes that.  I’m 66 yrs old, a female, and I find Hillary to be stale, entrenched in the Beltway politics, and I’m with the milleniells….I want someone who wants to revolutionize our political environment.  The last couple of decades have decimated the middle class thanks to status quo politics.  She’ll probably win the delegates, but she will not get my primary vote.

posted by: Atwater on February 3, 2016  3:48pm

HRC is a candidate that is supported by the 1%, Wall Street, Big Business, etc. because she supports and promotes Neo-Liberal policies that help line their pockets,as are the majority of politicians and political candidates (including Cruz, Rubio, etc.). Now, if the majority of candidates are funded and supported by the same groups of people (billionaires) wouldn’t one conclude that the “choices” voters are making aren’t really choices at all, at least not in any substantive meaning of the word. You’re right, our leaders aren’t elected by billionaires, but they are chosen and funded by billionaires, our elections are mere superficial selections in an apparent one party system. Sanders’ campaign is proving this point because it takes 3 million individual donations to challenge a candidate like HRC. And, this challenge will more than likely fail when the Democratic establishment ramps up their attacks on Sanders and Wall Street really starts pumping money into HRC’s campaign.

Also, Obama’s second campaign was heavily funded by Wall Street brokers and financiers. And some would say so was his first campaign, after the primaries.

I hope you read that Princeton study because it emphasizes the overwhelming influence that moneyed interests have in shaping public policy. The only way to challenge ignorance like yours is with knowledge, right? So, read beyond the headlines and think outside of the box and try to understand the complexities of the world in which you live.

posted by: fahrender on February 3, 2016  6:00pm

It seems to me that the crucial questions each voter should answer for themselves are as follows:
  1. What candidate will vigorously stand up for the needs of Middle Class and Working Class people?
  2. What candidate will actively pursue reducing the amount of money expended on elections and the lobbying of Congress for favors?
  3. What candidate is most concerned about environmental policies and public health issues?

There are many other things that could be mentioned but none are more crucial for the welfare of the nation.