Matthew Rothschild has appeared on such national TV programs as The O'Reilly Factor and Nightline as well as on C-SPAN and National Public Radio. Yet Rothschild—who visits Portland this week—spends most of his time much less visibly editing and publishing a political magazine in hard-left-of-center Madison, Wis.
Under his direction, The Progressive, founded 98 years ago by progressive icon "Fighting" Bob La Follette, has attracted such notable writers as Howard Zinn and Barbara Ehrenreich. And Rothschild's magazine also has tried to enter the larger debate with the Progressive Media Project, which distributes some 200 commentaries a year to newspapers nationwide.
The 49-year-old Rothschild sees no reason to beat around the bush: He wants the Iraq war ended and both Bush and Cheney impeached.
Now, he's touring the Pacific Northwest in support of his new book, You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression. WW spoke with him before his appearance Thursday, July 19, at Annie Bloom's Books in Portland.
WW: What's the difference between a liberal and a progressive?
Matthew Rothschild: In the minds of most Americans, the name "progressive" and the name "liberal" are just about synonymous. But I do think there are distinctions. The pillars of that [progressive] movement are extreme suspicion of corporate power...an understanding that corporations have too much power, not only over the economy but also over the political system. Another pillar is a resistance to reckless U.S. intervention overseas. La Follette himself was hanged in effigy for opposing World War I. He was just one of a handful of senators to oppose that war, so you can imagine what he'd think today about the Iraq war. The other pillars are a defense of civil liberties, civil rights and the environment.
It's gotten fashionable to call yourself progressive instead of liberal. Why are people resistant to call themselves liberal?
The name has gotten popular. I wish I had trademarked it a long time ago. Generally, I don't think anyone should hide from either label, because people can sense when you're being a coward.
You mention in your book that Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is a "courageous elected official." Do you consider him a progressive because he opposes the war?
I think Ron Paul is interesting in the same way that Dennis Kucinich is on the Democratic side. They don't have much of a chance to win, but they're there to express their beliefs in a way that isn't poll-driven and pre-marketed. They're telling it like it is. I heard Ron Paul on National Public Radio, and he sounded like a progressive until he started talking about economic issues. I think progressives and libertarians have a lot in common, especially when it comes to civil liberty issues.
Do you blame all encroachment of civil liberties on the Bush administration?
All these things are new with the Bush administration. I wasn't a big fan of the Clinton administration, either, but this book deals with the peculiarities of Bush. The book is a collection of 82 stories of individuals whose rights have been trampled on in the Bush age. Some ultimately prevailed in court, but some of them didn't. Teachers lost jobs, people were discriminated against, sometimes simply for some reading material they were handing out, or a poster they had on their wall. They'd get a visit from the FBI or the Secret Service.
Living in a democracy, didn't we bring this upon ourselves?
Something I just put on our website, progressive.org, is the manual the White House advance team put out. The manual says that whenever the president or the vice president go around the country, to make sure that protesters aren't within view. What good is their freedom of speech or their right to redress grievances to government if those that govern can't see their protest signs? Then the manual says that protesters should be shut down by rallying squads, Bush supporters recruited from fraternities and other places. The Secret Service is acting not to protect the president and vice president from assassination, but to protect them from dissent. It's like the king from the Middle Ages who can't be bothered by the scruffy peasants. So they clear whole areas before the arrival of his carriage.
Your book is a collection of journalistic vignettes, something different from your usual opinion pieces. Do you consider yourself a documentarian or polemicist?
I'm a polemicist when I'm wearing another hat. I do editorializing. I've been at the Progressive for 25 years now. I can write in that polemical style. This book, with exception of the first and last chapter, is not that. I really tried to tone the writing and rhetoric down and just be a reporter, let people see what has happened to these average Americans. To strip down the writing to just make it factual. To let the reader hear the voice of the people whose rights were trampled on.
Who do you support for president?
I don't support anyone. I don't endorse candidates. Whoever's elected president, we need to make sure that person doesn't abuse the powers of the office like Bush. If we don't try to impeach Bush or Cheney, they're going to be leaving a loaded gun in the top drawer of the Oval Office desk.
Are there any progressives in American government?
There are a lot of progressives. Certainly not in the Bush White House, but in the Congress. My senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, is a good, solid progressive. There's Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, who's a socialist. There's Barbara Boxer from California, who just said last week that this is the closest we've ever come to a dictatorship and that we need to keep impeachment on the table. As opposed to what Nancy Pelosi suggested. [Boxer] was the only senator to call for an investigation of the 2004 presidential election. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio are very much progressives. Barbara Lee in San Francisco.
Anybody from Oregon?
(Laughs) Sorry. I should have studied up. I don't know.
The Progressive has a monthly circulation of about 70,000 readers.
Progressive founder Bob La Follette, a Republican senator and governor from Wisconsin, ran for president in 1924.
Rothschild reads at Annie Bloom's Books, 7834 SW Capitol Highway, 246-0053. 7:30 pm Thursday, July 19. Free. For more of this interview, go to wweek.com.