In 1999 Bill Greider joined The Nation as national affairs correspondent. He died on Christmas day.
It was a joy to work with Bill. He was never cynical. He believed extraordinary ordinary people made change. He was a small-d democrat to his core, and, like his mentor Lawrence Goodwyn, Bill never wavered in his belief in the democratic populist promise.
Never afraid to go against the tide, Greider wrote several books on globalization, on democracy (including the bible for small-d democrats, Who Will Tell The People) on capitalism and on the role of Congress. Perhaps his most influential book, Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country (1987), challenged the then-conventional wisdom that the Fed should mercilessly fight inflation, and criticized the institution for acting with minimal oversight. It was lonely then to be critical of Alan Greenspan’s policies—but today, Greider’s insight and deep reporting informed by history and economics has been amply vindicated. His Atlantic interview with Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, did more to reveal the GOP’s rank cynicism and economic fallacies than any other reporting of its time.
At The Nation, Bill was a generous counselor, seeding ideas, mentoring younger writers and interns. He wrote scores of articles and editorials on a wide range of topics. He was prescient in forecasting the disasters of corporate globalization, the financial crisis of 2008, the ramifying influence of Occupy. He was early, and clearthroated, in calling for banksters to be held accountable; he laid out realistic and visionary alternatives to capitalism; he argued against endless wars, always understanding that America’s role as global policeman undermined democracy at home.
He knew where the bodies lay, in the financial and political world. And he didn’t flinch from covering the institutions’ perfidy.
Bill’s essay, “Rolling Back the 20th Century: The Right’s Grand Ambition,” so moved Bill Moyers that he took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post to draw attention to it and circulated it to scores of high-level policy-makers. The seminal essay explained how “the far right wants to dismantle the common assets of society, give back people’s taxes, and let everyone fend for himself.”
Bill was an American heretic: inquisitive, unwilling to accept conventional dogmas. As Rick Perlstein put it, “He was a glorious scourge of elite-consensus fecklessness.” Standing up for the rights of people over profits and corporate interests, Bill advocated what he liked to call “not ready for prime time” ideas to restructure our economic system.
Bill was never a pessimist. Always a voice for the people, he understood something all too rare in this 24-7 media world: The process of reinvigorating democracy requires not only respect for the people, deep reporting, historical insight, but also patience. As debates rage today over so much and so little, Bill’s 40-plus years reporting on corporate and financial criminality, on the power of movements to make change, on the decency and dignity of people will endure. His was a critical voice, in all times, especially today as we struggle to preserve social and economic justice and peace for all.
I will miss him.