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Portrait of Marcus Raskin

August 4, 2010 ·

Don't miss this profile of the man who co-founded IPS in 1963.

Four freedomsThere are many wonderful things about working for the Institute for Policy Studies. Take the dress code: Wear clothes. Seven years after escaping the corporate media and landing at this think tank, I can count on one hand the number of times I've purchased pantyhose. If you see a guy wearing a suit, chances are that he's an intern and it's his first day. The family-friendly work ethics can't be beat: If you have children or your sister is ill, you're welcome and expected to maneuver your office obligations around the obligations of being a caring parent and siblings. Best of all, we have the privilege of working with dozens of brilliant and kind people who genuinely want to save the world.

We're especially fortunate that Marcus Raskin, who together with Richard Barnet, founded our organization in 1963, is still part of the gang. Four Freedoms Under Siege, which Raskin co-authored with his longtime friend Robert Spero, is his most recent book. It's brilliant and eternally timely. The title harkens from the four freedoms FDR identified in his 1941 State of the Union address: the freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. One chapter, authored by Spero, profiles Marc.

In just 10 pages, Spero relates how this remarkably gifted pianist raised in a working-class Milwaukee family landed at Juilliard, then opted to turn his lifelong passion for music into a hobby, earning a law degree from the University of Chicago, spending a few years in the Kennedy administration, and then co-founding with Richard Barnet a progressive and boldly independent think tank. The chapter includes a great synopsis of Marc's role in galvanizing opposition to the Vietnam War, and highlights from the Institute's first four and a half decades, such as this remarkable anecdote.

"Ten years before President Ronald Reagan was credited with ending the cold war, Raskin and Barnet met in Moscow with Mikhail Gorbachev's senior advisors and learned, contrary to CIA estimates, that the Soviet Union was an overgrown third world country, its military threat was greatly exaggerated, and communist solidarity was a myth. Raskin passed their insights to the State Department, which paid no heed."

The real "I didn't know that!" part for me was learning that the actor Gene Wilder was one of Marc's junior high school friends. "It wasn't music or art (or girls) that drove Marcus," said the star of Young Frankenstein and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, who was known as Jerry Silberman back then. "But rather how, if he were ever in a position of power, he wanted to change the world so that people, like the poor families around us, would have decent homes to come home to."

The book, originally released in 2006 in hardcover, is now out as a paperback, which you can purchase online. This chapter is currently posted to our website, but will only be there for about two weeks. I also recommend watching this short video by former IPSer Farrah Hassen, which features Marc's haunting piano playing.