Jonathan Rauch takes Robert Reich's new memoir to task for constantly making things up
Life, unlike Reich's book, is not a series of morality fables. On Feb. 22, 1995, Reich testified on the minimum wage before the Joint Economic Committee. That much his memoir gets right. "The Republican attack machine is gearing up," Reich writes, "and I'm one of the targets." Then he paints a scene in which committee chairman Jim Saxton, R-N.J., interrupts Reich's initial testimony and lights into him savagely, starting with, "Where did you learn economics, Mr. Secretary?" and then jumping up and down in his chair and crying, "Evidence! Evidence!" while pointing to a chart. "There was a time not long ago when congressional hearings were designed to elicit information for members in order to help them draft legislation," recalls Reich ruefully. "Now they're attack ads."
When I checked the transcript, I was flabbergasted; so I checked the C-SPAN tapes, and they leave no doubt. Reich appears to have fabricated much of this episode for dramatic effect. Saxton was, in fact, decorous and polite. He did not jump up and down; he did not impugn Reich's education; he did not shout "Evidence! Evidence!" The chart to which Reich refers was actually presented during Saxton's opening statement, hours before Reich testified, and did not look as Reich claims it did. Worst of all, most of the lines that Reich attributes to Saxton--starting with "where did you learn economics, Mr. Secretary?"--appear never to have been said at all. Reich has replaced a dull, earnestly wonkish hearing with a Hollywood script in which a mean Republican hammers a decent Democrat. Don't take my word for it. I invite you to compare Reich's account with reality by clicking here. . . .