In his eighteen years as an opinion columnist for The New York Times, Herbert championed the working poor and the middle class. After filing his last column in 2011, he set off on a journey across the country to report on Americans who were being left behind in an economy that has never fully recovered from the Great Recession. The portraits of those he encountered fuel his new book, Losing Our Way. Herbert’s combination of heartrending reporting and keen political analysis is the purest expression since the Occupy movement of the plight of the 99 percent.
The individuals and families who are paying the price of America’s bad choices in recent decades form the book’s emotional center: an exhausted high school student in Brooklyn who works the overnight shift in a factory at minimum wage to help pay her family’s rent; a twenty-four-year-old soldier from Peachtree City, Georgia, who loses both legs in a misguided, mismanaged, seemingly endless war; a young woman, only recently engaged, who suffers devastating injuries in a tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis; and a group of parents in Pittsburgh who courageously fight back against the politicians who decimated funding for their children’s schools.
Herbert reminds us of a time in America when unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation’s wealth, by current standards, was distributed much more equitably. Today, the gap between the wealthy and everyone else has widened dramatically, the nation’s physical plant is crumbling, and the inability to find decent work is a plague on a generation. Herbert traces where we went wrong and spotlights the drastic and dangerous shift of political power from ordinary Americans to the corporate and financial elite. Hope for America, he argues, lies in a concerted push to redress that political imbalance. Searing and unforgettable, Losing Our Way ultimately inspires with its faith in ordinary citizens to take back their true political power and reclaim the American dream.
From the Hardcover edition.
American ideals and American realities, and urges us to do something about it
Bob Herbert is the conscience of the op-ed page of The New York Times, and his work is characterized by a strong moral vision and a deep understanding of the human costs of political decisions. From partisan politics to popular culture, from race relations to criminal justice, few journalists bring to life so movingly the stories of ordinary people caught between the American dream and American realities. Whether it is the inherent injustice of the death penalty or the demagoguery of the war on terrorism, Herbert questions whether we are truly upholding our ideals or merely giving them lip service.
In Promises Betrayed, Herbert makes the case that in recent years America has too often failed to live up to its creed of fairness and justice in the lives of working people, racial minorities, children, and others not among the powerful. He introduces us to real people facing real problems and trying to maintain their dignity along the way, and he blows the whistle on imperious public officials who think the rules of common decency do not apply to them. Herbert's tenacious reporting has resulted in the overturning of many wrongful convictions and the release of dozens of innocent people from prison. In these and so many other ways, Herbert keeps us all honest and lives up to the journalist's credo: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.