|"People's Warrior: John Moss and the Fight for Freedom of Information and Consumer Rights" - ISBN# 9781611474718|
1. Your biography of California Congressman John Moss, who was responsible in the 1960s and 1970s for such significant progressive legislation as the Freedom of Information Act and the Consumer Product Safety Act, is clearly a labor of love. How did you come to write it? What did you hope to accomplish through writing it?
"People's Warrior," published in 2011 by FDU Press with Roman and Littlefield, was my attempt to tell a forgotten story about a significant man and an important era in our nation's history. It was also repayment of a debt I owed, and still owe, to the late Congressman John Moss.
As a young lawyer in Washington, I became general counsel to a small federal study commission, the National Commission on Product Safety. How I got to that key spot, through a series of stunning coincidences, is another story (which I tell in my book). But, after the NCPS filed its final report urging a new federal consumer safety law, I was out of a job with a wife and two small children at home. I did not know Moss at all. I knew his subcommittee has responsibility for consumer issues and that he was a member of Congress who cared about issues that affected ordinary people. So I called him on the telephone. I guess he had heard of the commission's investigation and report because he offered me a job on the spot. The next decade, working with John Moss in the people's interest, was the most challenging and productive period of my life. My debt to him is still not paid.
2. The book, which boasts a foreword by Ralph Nader, has received raves from Al Gore and James Fallows in the Atlantic, among many others. You have given many interviews about it. Are you pleased with the way the public has responded to the work and to Congressman Moss's remarkable story?
Generally, yes. But, as Moss told me before he died in 1997, the battle for open government and consumer rights described in "People's Warrior," "never ends." Nor should we forget our history. Ask me your question again in November 2012.
3. We live in what has been described as a time of extreme political polarization. Can you comment on changes that have occurred between Congressman Moss's day and ours? Does he have any successors today?
The 1960s and 1970s when Moss served are thought of by historians as a transitional era, when not much was accomplished. Like a "pet rock" one of them said. The story of that era and of Moss's successful progressive battles for open government and consumer rights prove that theory wrong. Moss and his allies changed America. And they did it against all the odds.
Despite all the current ideological, anti-government rhetoric and stubborn refusal by some politicians to reach fair political compromise, nothing that John Moss accomplished for the American people has ever been repealed. It has stood the test of time. I tell much more about the fierce political infighting in "People's Warrior" and in an oral history I just completed for the Historian of the House of Representatives (to be released next year), but as fierce as those battles were, the environment was nothing compared to what goes on in Congress today. In Moss's time, it was possible to compromise, and many of his important bills ended up being backed by Republican congressmen and presidents. I guess they saw the light.
4. If Congressman Moss were alive today, what issues would concern him most? How would he go about dealing with them?
He would want to make the Freedom of Information Act faster and more effective in opening up governments to the public and the press. He would want better funding and enforcement power for consumer protection agencies like the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (an Act he authored) and the auto safety agency (NHTSA) which he co-authored. NHTSA automobile safety standards have saved at least 2 million lives since the law was passed in 1966. In fact, this will be the subject of my next book.
Moss knew consumer protection does not cost money; prevention saves lives and reduces taxes and overall economic costs. Moss would tell the public the truth and fight with everything he had for the public interest. And Moss would want to get the money out of politics. "Money corrupts the political process," he told me twenty years ago. He might add today, "big money corrupts bigger."
Interview by: Kathleen Shultz