Volume 3 Number 9
From Human Events, June 26, 1993
When Hillary Clinton gave what the New York Times Magazine called a “passionate, at times slightly incoherent, call for national spiritual renewal,” she borrowed heavily from ideas spawned by Michael Lerner, the prominent editor and publisher of Tikkun, a liberal Jewish bimonthly. Lerner is the man who coined the phrase “politics of meaning,” which Clinton embraced in her celebrated April 6 speech in Austin, Tex.
“What do our governmental institutions mean? What do our lives in today’s world mean?” she asked. “What does it mean in today’s world to pursue not only vocations, to be part of institutions, but to be human?”
“Let us be willing,” she said in conclusion, “to remold society by redefining what it means to be a human being in the 20th Century, moving into a new millennium.”
A more interesting question, however, may be, who is this fellow Lerner, who seems to have swept the First Lady off her feet, ideologically speaking?
Lerner, according to a Washington Post profile (June 9), had initially wormed his way into the affections of the Clinton’s in 1988 when Bill Clinton sent Lerner a letter from the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, saying that Lerner’s writings had “helped me clarify my own thinking.”
When Lerner was invited to the White House some weeks after Hillary’s Austin speech, Hillary, according to Lerner, told him that it was “amazing how much we seem to be on the same wavelength.” Lerner said he agreed, and that he had some ideas “about how to take the politics of meaning into a policy direction.” She asked him to come back soon, and he did.
“The following Monday,” he said, “I was meeting with her back in her office in Washington for a half hour. The conversation was quite amazing, because just in that first little interchange where she [said] immediately, `What am I? Your mouthpiece?’, the conversation was almost like half sentences, because she had read everything [that Lerner had written on the `politics of meaning’]. I mean she had understood everything.”
And just how would Lerner translate his “policy of meaning” into government policy? In the May/June Tikkun, we get a glimpse, and it turns out to be a loony form of socialism.
Here, for instance, is what he urges the Clinton Administration to do to give more “meaning” to the lives of the average worker, and though it may seem slightly balmy to our readers, we assure you Lerner is being serious:
“Policy Recommendation No. 1: Every work place should be mandated to create a mission statement explaining its function and what conception of the common good it is serving and how it is doing so.”
That sounds silly enough, but there’s more. Management, says Lerner, “should produce such a statement, but there should be a totally separate process, fully protected by legal strictures of confidentiality, by which workers can gather and discuss these issues and report on what they believe their workplace is actually doing and how it is doing it as well as what kind of changes would be necessary if the workplace were to solve the common good and were to provide meaningful work.
“To ensure that time is allocated for this purpose, the government should mandate a series of two-hour segments on succeeding weeks in which workers are given paid time to meet together and develop their own positions. The Department of Labor should organize this process and publish the results.”
If you like this sort of nonsense, you’ll also be entranced with “Policy Recommendation No. 2: The Department of Labor should initiate an annual national `Occupational Stress Day’ dedicated to educating the public and the government about the stress that people face at work, the way stress gets brought home into family life and how this stress might be buffered or reduced.”
Indeed, so ill-equipped is the average person in recognizing stress, thinks Lerner that in Policy Recommendation No. 3 he says: “The Department of Labor should mandate that all workplaces offer Occupational Stress Groups (OSGs) in which workers can learn how to recognize stress more fully at the workplace.”
Not only this, but every workplace “should provide paid leave for a worker to attend 12 two-hour sessions on stress, and providers of these OSGs should be compensated by a fund paid for jointly by the government and by the employer. To be effective, OSGs should have no management personnel, and facilitators should be chosen by workers.
This is the kind of silly socialism that Lerner expounds on at length, and, judging from the news reports, the kind of goo-gooism Hillary is enthralled with.
But Lerner isn’t through dispensing his advice. Under “Policy Recommendation No. 4.” Lerner, displaying his bent for worker socialism. says the Department of Labor “should mandate that every employer allow workers to elect an Occupational Safety and Health Committee empowered to require changes in the organization of work to increase workers’ safety and health including mental health and to increase workers’ opportunity to actualize their skills and talents.”
Management will generously be allowed to `’appeal decisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Committees (OSHC) to regionally elected Workplace Review Committees,” but if workers feel these committees aren’t being fair “they may appeal to the federal district court.”
Then there’s his final recommendation: “Unemployment insurance must be raised to a level that would make it possible for all employees unable to find work to continue to live at a level of income equal to the amount they were making at the time of their employment or equal to the median income in the society, whichever is less.”
Such insurance shall be available “for the first half-year as a right,” and then only if the worker is enrolled in a retraining program and after that only if the worker is willing “to take any job offer that does not require a reduction from previous income levels below the median average income in the society.”
To ensure that such jobs continue to be available, “federal legislation should be passed to prevent any company from moving or closing its plants in a given area without first making a social environmental impact report on the human consequences.”
Companies would be fined, up to confiscatory levels, for those moves that negatively effect on [sic] the health of the community, unless they can show that they have done everything economically feasible to convert the facility to worker-controlled enterprises producing goods that might sustain future employment for those they previously employed.”
Marxism, or at least a form of it, appears not to be wholly out of style among First Lady gurus. Is Lerner’s Socialist crack pottery what Hillary is thinking about when she talks about the “politics of meaning?” She should be asked about it, soon.
Lerner now talks largely of “caring” and “loving” when he babbles on about socialism and the “politics of meaning.” But not so long ago, he was talking about the need to bring about Utopia through revolutionary violence.
In a book he helped edit, called counter-culture and revolution, published in 1972 by Random House. Lerner is described as having served as an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Washington “before being indicted in 1970 as a member of the `Seattle Conspiracy.’ He had previously been a Berkeley activist who helped organize the first Human Be-In with Jerry Rubin and others in San Francisco early in 1967.
“Lerner was also a member of the executive committee of the Free Speech Movement in 1964 and an organizer of People’s Park in 1968. He is the founder of the New American Movement, a new nationwide Socialist organization.”
The Washington Post said that “In 1964, he went to Berkeley to study philosophy. He was part of the Free Speech Movement and Students for a Democratic Society, an activist against the Vietnam War and in favor of the black liberation movement.”
But such descriptions don’t do justice to Lerner’s full thoughts. In 1973, Lerner wrote a book called The New Socialist Revolution, published by Delacorte Press in New York. Here are some of the “caring” things lie was saying then:
“This book is an attempt to explain why the only changes that will make sense in America are those that will move this country to socialism, a socialism that will be a far cry both from the `welfare statism’ of Sweden and the bureaucratic regimes of Eastern Europe. And I hope also to show why that socialism cannot be achieved by relying on the political system to move slowly in the direction of socialism but can be realized in this country only through revolutionary struggle.”
“Only when one fully appreciates what human life can become does he become fully committed to overthrowing those vestiges of the past that have kept human beings from realizing their potentialities. Those vestiges, institutionalized as the capitalist system, not only keep us from our potentialities, but simultaneously threaten the whole world with extinction in the process of maintaining an oppressive rule. Both our humanity and our reason demand that we engaged ourselves in the struggle for Socialist revolution.
“As long as capitalist society remains fundamentally intact, the sexist structures will continue to deform us all. And we, in turn, will deform our children. Indeed, the oppression of children is yet another legacy of sexism in capitalist society,”
“But we can be part of the generation that sweeps into the dustbin of history those last impediments to this new era: the American ruling class and those ruling classes around the world that will fall along with it as the capitalist world is overturned through revolution.”
” . . . Powerless to affect the decisions that affect their lives, people in the Soviet Union are far from having socialism.
“The Soviet Union does, however; have a high degree of welfare statism. And in this respect, it is similar, though somewhat in advance of, Sweden and other countries that supply the minimum social welfare benefits all humans deserve.”
“Can the American Revolution occur without violence? This is a crucial question, which worries most Socialists….
“But when the question of violence is addressed to the left, it is only to distort reality. The real question must be asked of the rulers of this country: will they allow their system of unequal power and wealth to be overthrown without violence? This is an empirical question, and part of the answer is already in: the rulers constantly use violence to maintain their social order. and that social order reeks with violence….
“The question of violence is being answered for us everyday by the ruling class. Will they allow us to revolutionize the world nonviolently? Absolutely not. On the contrary, they will fight to the last drop of our blood and the blood of every mercenary they can buy or coerce.”
“Revolutionary violence must be understood in this context. The aim of revolutionary violence is completely defensive: to defend people from the violence inherent in the capitalist system and the violence unleashed against those who attempt to change it “
That Lerner is still a Marxist is clear, but when he gave up his belief that a violent Socialist revolution was essential to usher in the millennium is not. Nor is it clear that he has ever yielded that thought. It might be something he should be asked.
Meanwhile, it is less than comforting to realize this wild and crazy ‘philosopher’ has a hold of Hillary’s willing ear. §
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