By Robert Scheer
Truthdig Editor Robert Scheer does a career-spanning interview with John Burton, the “blue-collar liberal” who helped rule California politics as both a congressman and leader of the state legislature over the last 30 years.
Below are edited excerpts from their discussion:
Scheer: What do you feel about Bill Clinton’s legacy on welfare reform?
Burton: To me the welfare reform was the darkest moment [of the Clinton presidency] - not Monica Lewinsky, not everything else. They brag like it worked because there’s a lot of people off welfare, but they’re in the streets - starving. It was a terrible thing, and it didn’t have to go that far. Certainly welfare, like every other program, was not perfect, but it didn’t have to go as far as it did. And that’s a legacy that I don’t care how every body talks about it, but it’s one that I don’t think that President Clinton should be proud of.
Scheer: Were you happier working on the state level in the California legislature, or on the national level in Congress?
Burton: When I was the leader of the senate, it was much more fun, because then you could do things, and instead of bitching about, ‘why is this happening?’ or ‘why is that happening?’ You could stop things from happening or make them happen. Fun is being able to get stuff done.
Scheer: You’re really a throwback, in a way, to an older model of a Democratic politician. You’re a wheeler-dealer, you’re willing to take a punch, give a punch
Burton: ... You get votes by people either agreeing with you or you can threaten to beat them up with a baseball bat -which usually doesn’t work - or you find out what they want in return; and if a guy says I’ll vote for your park, but I want my park ... case closed.
If you’re elected to a job, you’re supposed to do it. I don’t know that it’s wheeling-dealing, but you get the job done. You’re there for the j-o-b. If you’re there to take up space and vote or pontificate and go make a great left-wing liberal speech and you couldn’t get a dog out of a pond, what good are you?