Mickey Kaus on How Unions Killed the Democrats, Immigration, New Media, & Bringing the Velvet Underground to Beverly Hills High
The Kaus family was deeply intertwined with California politics and culture long before journalist/blogger Mickey Kaus started his 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 Robert 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. Needless to say, Kaus has no chance of unseating Boxer in the California primary coming on June 8. Yet his insights on new media, unions, and politics more broadly are well worth hearing. And his story about bringing the Velvet Underground to perform at Beverly Hills High in the '60s is not to be missed.
Reason.tv Editor Nick Gillespie spoke with Kaus in May, just after Arizona passed a controversial law about checking the immigration status of anyone who comes into contact with law enforcement.
Look for a version of this exchange in the August/September print edition of Reason.