The Kaus family was deeply intertwined with California politics and culture long before journalist/blogger Mickey Kaus made a longshot bid to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer in the 2010 Democratic primary.
Mickey’s father, the Viennese-born Otto Kaus, was a well-respected jurist who sat on the California Supreme Court from 1981 to 1985. His brother Stephen is a prominent Bay Area civil litigation attorney and a commentator for The Huffington Post. Mickey’s maternal grandmother, Dorothy Huttenback, was a musical prodigy who headed up the Los Angeles Music Guild for three decades, and Dorothy’s son Robert served as chancellor of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Both sides of the family were part of the historic wave of German-speaking Jews who fled the Nazis for Southern California in and around the 1930s, injecting a distinctive, semi-alienated yet intensely patriotic intellectual style to the Golden State’s civic conversation.
Mickey Kaus’ position within the national public policy discussion has always been that of a tweak-your-own-side contrarian. He was part of the group of writers at the left-of-center Washington Monthly in the 1980s who hatched what they called “neoliberalism”—a qualified rejection of interest-group politics and Keynesian economics in favor of policies intended to harness rather than oppose market forces. That frame led him to The End of Equality, a seminal 1992 book that stressed opportunities over outcomes and took on the liberal sacred cow of welfare. Kaus certainly hadn’t abandoned the liberal fold—among other things, the book called for a federal jobs program, universal health coverage, and compulsory national service—but he wasn’t an ordinary Democrat either.
By the end of the 1990s Kaus’ name was synonymous with political blogging. He had launched one of the first and most influential journalist blogs, Kausfiles, which for most of its lifespan has been published by Slate. In 2005 he helped kick-start the video debate site Bloggingheads.tv with his friend and frequent sparring partner Bob Wright. There and elsewhere, Kaus has distanced himself from his own Democratic Party on unionism, health care reform, public sector pensions, and especially immigration.
In 2010 Kaus decided to put his money where his mouth is and run against Boxer, the powerful three-term senator, as a way to advance the discussion about modern Democratic priorities. Just before this issue went to press, Kaus finished in a distant third place, with 5 percent of the vote.
reason.tv Editor Nick Gillespie spoke with Kaus in May, a month before the primary and just after Arizona passed a controversial law about checking the immigration status of anyone who comes into contact with law enforcement. For a video version of this interview, go to reason.tv.
reason: Why are you running for Senate?
Mickey Kaus: I think the Democratic Party has been captured by its interest groups. The unions are the main one. They own the Democratic Party of California.
reason: Which unions in particular?
Kaus: The big ones are the teachers unions and the SEIU. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers basically runs the L.A. Department of Water and Power. The prison guards are very important. The Indian casinos are very important, too. They’re like Wall Street. They’ve bought both parties.
reason: There is effectively no Republican Party in California anymore, right?
Kaus: No, there is one. It’s up for grabs. It’s a very weak party structure. Both parties are weak, and the Republicans maybe are even weaker than the Democrats.
reason: So the Democrats have been captured by their interest groups, particularly the unions.
Kaus: But there’s also this pandering to the Latino lobby. There’s a big Latino caucus in the legislature and they have immense power.
reason: What constitutes pandering to Latinos?