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August 23, 2007

Why I hate The New Republic

By Kathy G.

I’ve been mulling over this post for a while, but postponed writing it. Then I saw this (via Yglesias), and I decided, you know what? That is the last fucking straw.

New Republic, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:

1. I hate the way it is, and has always been, such an Ivy League white boy wankfest. The late, great Steve Gilliard used to say that TNR’s motto was “Looking for a qualified black since 1916” and there is much truth in that. The women writers are also few and far between, and tend to be relegated to girly subjects like poetry and book reviews, not the manly realms of politics and policy.

The sexual and racial uniformity is offensive on principal, of course. Moreover, in practice, it is one of the factors that has caused TNR to suck so hard. For example, there’s the classic TNR genre of pointless look-how-clever-I-am contrarianism. Only in a culture as insular, inbred, and out-of-touch as TNR’s could a style of argument as inane and precious as this one flourish. The obnoxious white boy entitlement complex probably also explains why TNR has harbored more than its share of frauds and fantasists. Because if you’re as special as we are who needs fact-checkers, right?

2. TNR is the Great Journalistic Wanker Machine. Have you ever been reading something on the internets, or listening to some Very Serious Person on the radio or teevee – and thought to yourself: “Shit, the dude who wrote this, or is yammering away on my teevee, is one serious wanker. That just might be the most wankeriffic thing I’ve heard all month! Or all year, even!”

Well, chances are, my friend, that the wanker you’ve had inflicted on you got his start in journalism at, or otherwise spent a significant chunk of their career at, The New Republic. TNR is responsible for foisting more first-class wankers on a blameless public than virtually any other media outlet.

Why, there’s Wanker Most Valuable Player Martin Peretz! Wanker All-Stars Lee Siegel, Peter Beinart, and Jeffrey Rosen! And Wanker Rookie of the Year James Kirchick!

Along with, of course, a veritable Hall of Fame of Wankers Emeritus: Mickey Kaus! Fred Barnes! Morton Kondracke! Charles Krauthammer! James K. Glassman (remember Dow 36,000? Sure you do!)! Michael Kelly! Robert Kagan! Robert Kaplan! Benjamin Wittes! Gregg Easterbrook! Jacob Weisberg! William Saletan! Andrew Sullivan! Camille Paglia!

I know, I know – Mommy, make it stop!

3. The biggest reason of all why I hate TNR, though, is this: the New Republic is the Number One Bitch of the American right.

Whenever conservatives needed the bipartisan cover of an allegedly liberal institution to promote their latest harebrained foreign policy adventure, or reactionary reversal of a longstanding progressive public policy, or vicious smear of progressive American ideas, institutions, and individuals, the New Republic was at the ready, as eager to service them as a brothel full of open-ass punks.

Latecomers to this sordid tale may be under the impression that the New Republic’s fall from grace began with its shameless shilling for the Iraq War, but it didn’t begin there, and it won’t end there, either. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of those golden moments of yesteryear, shall we?

Over the past two decades, as the right gathered strength and began their attempt to systematically destroy each and every venerable accomplishment of liberalism, here are some of the policies and ideas the New Republic enthusiastically endorsed:

-- a full-service menu of wingnut foreign policy positions, from aid to the contras in Nicaragua during the 80s to saber-rattling against Iran today to the full-throated support of every batshit crazy thing Israel has ever done;

-- well, to put it bluntly, racism – through everything from TNR’s obsessive attempts to discredit Jesse Jackson and its opposition to affirmative action to Martin Peretz’s many ugly insinuations about Arabs and, in what is perhaps the most shameful episode in the magazine’s history, the publication of an excerpt from Charles Murray’s crackpot pseudoscientific racist tract, The Bell Curve;

-- via an error-ridden article by a hack from a wingnut think tank, the torpedoing of Hillary Clinton’s health care proposal, which was the only real shot we’ve had at universal health care in decades;

-- a host of reverse Robin Hood neoliberal economic policies and ideas, from NAFTA to welfare reform to privatizing Social Security to reflexive union-bashing;

-- the gutting of Roe v. Wade (via Jeffrey Rosen’s cute argument that because of alleged flaws in the legal reasoning of Roe, we’d all be better off if abortion was left to the states – try telling that to any poor, pregnant, and desperate woman in red state America);

-- the wingnut persecution of Bill Clinton, in the form of the bullshit Whitewater and Monica “scandals;”

-- Joe Lieberman’s ass-tastic 2004 campaign for President (yes, believe it or not, he got their endorsement); and

-- the recent changes to the FISA law that more or less gave the Bush administration a license to spy on any and all of their political enemies.

Have I forgotten anything?

It could be argued that, in recent years, TNR has reversed course on a host of issues, and indeed it has – it did a 180 on affirmative action, the economic policies it now endorses are a lot more populist, and many of its writers have reversed themselves on the Iraq war.

And it could be pointed out that even today, The New Republic still produces some first-rate journalism – just in the past week, for example, there was this and this. Interspersed occasionally among the wankers, it’s also published a host of terrific writers, including Thomas Frank, Rick Perlstein, Chris Hayes, Spencer Ackerman, James Wolcott, and Terry Castle. It gave my favorite political writer, Thomas Geoghegan, his start in journalism. It must be said, however, that none of those writers, except Ackerman (now departed) and I believe Geoghegan, has ever held a staff position on TNR.

Among current and recent staff writers, I’m a fan of Jonathan Chait’s writing on economics and tax policy. I thought Ryan Lizza’s devastating piece on George Allen was a service to the nation (because, believe me, without it the Senate would still be in Republican hands and we’d be dealing with that gigantic asshole as the presumptive frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination).

But if you focus on the high points of TNR, you miss the forest for the trees. As a journalistic institution, TNR plays a unique role in the development of policy and politics. Its circulation has always been low (and in recent years has declined drastically), but many of the people who read it are very powerful: media elites, D.C. lobbyists and activists, and policymakers in the White House and the Senate, and on Capitol Hill. If TNR supports a particular policy or idea, that carries serious weight, especially when what it supports is conservative. It enables the right to say, “Even the liberal New Republic endorses X,” and that has tremendous credibility and resonance. It doesn’t matter if 19 out of 20 articles in a given issue are liberal; the one wingnutty one out of the 20 will, by virtue of its setting, be all the more influential.

To explain it a little more fully: I remember an example I had in a game theory class, where a leader is deciding to go to war or not. The leader has two advisers, one known to be a hawk and the other known to be a dove. The basic insight was that the leader would tend to listen more seriously to a dove urging war or a hawk urging peace, because the advice each was giving would be against type, and thus had extra credibility. That’s why politicians like Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman are so deeply damaging to Democrats, because when they say anti-war Democrats are unpatriotic, uninformed people will think there’s something to it. Whereas when Bush and Cheney say such things it’s par for the course.

The same principle applies to the New Republic: when a venerable liberal institution like TNR strongly endorses a breathtaking range of illiberal positions, and starts smearing liberals who disagree with them as extremist and unpatriotic in the bargain, the damage it does to the liberal cause is profound.

The New Republic’s 25-year jihad against liberalism has had dire consequences for this country, and the world. Under this administration, we have seen the needless and tragic annihilation of one of the great American cities. We’ve seen economic inequality soar to near-record levels. We’ve seen a Supreme Court habitually given to reactionary reversals of long-settled doctrines, like Brown v. Board of Education. We’ve seen a religious right sufficiently emboldened to broaden its anti-abortion campaign and start targeting a woman’s right to birth control as well. We’ve seen global warming develop apace, with our leaders making zero serious efforts to control it. We’ve seen a dangerously ignorant and frighteningly out-of-control chief executive who seemingly delights in pissing all over the Constitution at any opportunity.

And then there’s the little matter of those 500,000 rotting corpses in Iraq, and a national reputation that is in tatters all over the world, and will likely remain that way for decades.

Though God knows they weren’t the only ones, New Republic played an indispensable role in enabling these maniacs, every step of the way.

And now these pricks want to say they’re sorry? Well -- cry me a river, bitches.

In short: New Republic, fuck you very much.

August 23, 2007 in Media | Permalink

Comments

You don't like TNR?

Posted by: Garuda | Aug 23, 2007 3:50:08 PM

Krauthammer!

And anywhere that ever publishes Kaus deserves to be wiped from the earth.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 | Aug 23, 2007 3:56:28 PM

The sexual and racial uniformity is offensive on principal, of course.

How many staff writers does it have? Like ten? Fewer? I can't bring myself to be upset about its white maleness on principle.

Overall, due to its catastrophic wrongness, and its dangerous and, worse, its often successful efforts to delegitimize everyone and everything to its left, it's definitely a force for not-so-awesomeness.

Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg | Aug 23, 2007 4:30:26 PM

Yes, Garuda, I think that's what she's trying to say. ;)

And, granting for a moment that your indictment of TNR is essentially true... I'm not sure that makes the article in question beyond the pale. I'm still trying to sort out the new FISA law, but it does strike me on first blush that there was a need to address questions of advancing technology that the original law didn't anticipate. I also have to admit I'm comfortable with warrantless wiretapping of calls involving people out of the country suspected of terrorism. I don't trust this Administration at all, though, and I too get the impression - but haven't seen a great comprehensive breakdown yet - of what's in the bill that's so far beyond the pale. Without that, I can't really assess whether what Wittes is saying makes sense or not, but I do think the bill isn't absolutely bad... and not so far gone that we can't go back after 2008 and fix it.

As for not liking TNR, and not liking at such length as Kathy... my dislike of it just isn't that passionate. I'd say simply that I've rarely read anything from it, or by anyone who writes or wrote for it, that I haven't seen somewhere else better by someone else. They are the website I am most willing to use bugmenot for, because I think their content isn't worth anyone paying money for. Which, I suppose, is what you get as the vanity publication of a rich eccentric. The really passionate anti-TNR folk seem to be more DC than I am or ever was, and it seems to carry a weight in DC (as so many things do) that doesn't really translate outside the beltway; my New Yorker take is they're as irrelevant as they've ever been, and I don't know why people give them much if any weight most of the time. If we ignore them, they might go away. I've certainly been trying to do my part on that score.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 23, 2007 4:32:09 PM

weboy roundly misses the point. This is not an essay about the aesthetic experience of reading TNR, or how often any given individual finds it worth reading. It is an essay about the effect the magazine has on the policy environment in Washington--another point weboy willfully misses, when he says they're irrelevant in New York.

If you ignore them, is the point, they grow stronger. Their crapularity informs DC culture are the more efficiently, without the beyond-the-beltway world being any the wiser.

Posted by: ykcir | Aug 23, 2007 4:50:20 PM

This sort of intemperate outburst doesn't exactly do wonders for the underlying argument. You would hope that liberals making a case - against TNR or otherwise - would do so with a little more class ("wankfest"? Seriously?) than their GOP counterparts. We're trying to build public credibility here, not provide fodder for the O'Reilly Factor.

For what it's worth, I'm with weboy on the question of the article itself - I don't think it's correct, but it's a far cry from incorrect argument to this sort of screed.

Posted by: Geoff | Aug 23, 2007 5:02:52 PM

I'm not missing it ykcir - I just think "the policy environment in Washington" is rather like the Wizard of Oz... it seems terribly important until you pull away the curtain. I know that others take all of this terribly seriously (... uh-oh, dilettantism charges coming... I can feel it), but I've never cared for DC types who carry a certain misplaced sense of self importance. The people who earnestly quote TNR articles as their place for policy thinking rarely come off well, as far as I can tell... and again, to really say that TNR has reach as a policy discussion mag would be to say that it has reach into places outside DC where other policy thinkers operate. I don't get the impression that it has quite that rep. And part of the reason it doesn't, which was my point, is that there's little in it that's really a great read (it's why I get the impression that the Nation has more impact on liberals; and it's certainly not as if conservatives take TNR all that seriously - especially now that they have Scott Thomas Beauchamp as their poster boy). I get more useful policy thinking from The Economist, even when I disagree with it. And really, I'm agreeing with Kathy here, just that I'm not sure she needed to be quite so... vividly lengthy; that, too, implies that there's something about TNR to take seriously. No one, really, should give it a lot of weight. The things is, I don't think a lot of people really do. TNR is terrible.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 23, 2007 5:03:31 PM

weboy -

If you ignore politics, things that have an impact on our political system seem unimportant. All that means is that you have failed as an observer. DC is where our politics happen. Your desire to ruffle the feathers of 'DC types' is simply causing you to stop paying attention to politics.

Posted by: matt | Aug 23, 2007 5:15:27 PM

So what happens in DC is not important?

Posted by: akaison | Aug 23, 2007 5:22:39 PM

"I just think "the policy environment in Washington" is rather like the Wizard of Oz... it seems terribly important until you pull away the curtain."

The policy environment in Washington gives you the occupation of Iraq. Not terribly important, I guess, compared with a really great read.

Posted by: Herschel | Aug 23, 2007 5:23:16 PM

I can't stand TNR either, but... predominately white? Male? Ivy League? Smugly contrarian? You aren't describing TNR, you're describing opinion journalism.

Posted by: Andrew | Aug 23, 2007 5:33:30 PM

I gave up on TNR years ago. I can't speak to whether it is terrible. I would like to support Weboy, though.

Out here in Sacramento, we have plenty of politics. DC isn't doing the real work on universal health care or climate change, but we are, right now. I never hear people quoting TNR positions, so in addition to not reading the magazine, I don't particularly care what TNR says to other people.

Posted by: Megan | Aug 23, 2007 5:36:31 PM

“Looking for a qualified black since 1916”

To be fair, it's hard to find black people in Chocolate City.

Over the past ten to fifteen years, TNR appeared to hire mostly American Likudniks and Dixie apologists. Foer is apparently trying to change that. No doubt they're still assholes, but I actually think they may going somewhere interesting (though it's going to take a while).

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 23, 2007 5:43:41 PM

Kathy G.
That little essay was stellar. Don't listen to Weboy. I've finally understood his shtick and its "shh, don't make waves, someone might get offended." Why he thinks the poster or commenter that he is shushing should stop saying something they think is important because "some guy on the internet" tells them to is a mystery that will never be solved. The specific argument that Weboy makes ("after all, everyone knows TNR isn't a liberal magazine") is, oddly enough, exactly the same my right wing sister in law used to make about why it was OK to watch Fox news all the time. Because since "everyone knew" it was biased to the right she could safely imbibe all its misttatements and lies and not be affected by them. She would miraculously take in the information and sift it in some way and come out understanding how the world actuallyworked. Of course she watched Fox because it massaged her right wing viewpoint,and she never managed to self correct or find any other sources of information. In the same way "even the liberal TNR" has made a very sucessful niche for itself marketing idiotic contrarianism and sucking up to the right wing to the great damage to its liberal readership and to america as a whole as you amply demonstrate.

I agree with you on the details of this essay, as well as enjoying the overall tone.

aimai

Posted by: aimai | Aug 23, 2007 5:47:29 PM


This rant is just silly.

"via an error-ridden article by a hack from a wingnut think tank, the torpedoing of Hillary Clinton’s health care proposal, which was the only real shot we’ve had at universal health care in decades"

Wait, an article that criticizes a health care proposal ...... is equivalent to the power of the Oval Office? If it only takes an article to shoot down a plan, then either the plan outright sucks or the political effort behind it is utterly inept (or both, in this case).

"a host of reverse Robin Hood neoliberal economic policies and ideas, from NAFTA to welfare reform to privatizing Social Security to reflexive union-bashing"

NAFTA and welfare reform were official major policy initiatives of the Clinton administration - indeed, most Democratic Party politicians still enthusiastically support both.

"the gutting of Roe v. Wade (via Jeffrey Rosen’s cute argument that because of alleged flaws in the legal reasoning of Roe, we’d all be better off if abortion was left to the states – try telling that to any poor, pregnant, and desperate woman in red state America)"

You think the majority of the Supreme Court gets it's legal reasoning straight from The New Republic? Their legal reasoning is nonsense, but I don't think they let TNR do their thinking for them (Commentary or First Things maybe, but not TNR). The leaving abortion to the states thing has been an idea running around for over thirty years!

Certainly, TNR is too smug and very often foolish. But, their positions (insofar as they have positions) aren't that different from many, many prominent Democratic Party figures. Now, I'm all for opposing those figures - but THAT's the serious effort, not ranting against a magazine with relatively low circulation.


Posted by: burritoboy | Aug 23, 2007 5:52:42 PM

"The sexual and racial uniformity is offensive on principal, of course."

What principle is that? The principle that even small private organizations are not allowed to hire who ever the hell they want to? The principle that small niche groups aren't entitled to their opinion?

What principle is so offensive?

Your other point that their lack of diversity leads them to make errors and to generally suck is much stronger.

Your point about their lack of principal is just ignorant, anti-democratic, feminist authoritarianism. "Kneel before Zoddess!"

Posted by: fubar | Aug 23, 2007 5:59:34 PM

if anyone read this post and walked away with a different opinion on TNR, I'd like to know.

Posted by: mitch | Aug 23, 2007 6:27:48 PM

Oh for god's sake aimai... go, make waves. Please. I'm all for wave-making.

Also, I am not your sister. Except in spirit. I don't think Fox News is benign, and I've been pretty vocal on that topic, much to Capt. Toke's dismay.

I don't like TNR. I'm quite critical of it. I don't disagree with much of what Kathy says here... except possibly that there's just so much she has to say. And I think this question of who takes TNR seriously preoccupies Washington types way more than it does people outside of DC. Is all I'm saying. I think the point is - message receved. I don't take it seriously. I don't think others should. Are we really in that much disagreement here? I don't see it.

Herschel, the Bush Administration gave you the occupation of Iraq... precisely because they don't understand policy thinking.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 23, 2007 6:39:08 PM

sorry, make that sister in law... darn these quick typed responses... ;)

Posted by: weboy | Aug 23, 2007 6:41:15 PM

Man, that was awesome. Thank you Kathy G.

Sometimes, fellas, you just have to get out the old knife and start filleting, when presented with such a juicy piece of hypocrisy of TNR. I don't really care about the "actual" power it holds or doesn't hold; it needed a skewering, and a skewering it got. Bravo. May it get many more, until the Paglias and Krauthammers have to find another stage where they can put on their dog and pony shows.

Posted by: emjaybee | Aug 23, 2007 7:15:57 PM

I join those who don't see the horrors of the Wittes article. It seems clearly written and reasonable to me. If the article is so terrible, explain how, don't just assume it.

The anti-TNR screed was intended, I suppose, to be rather like Ezra's plate, over-filled with red meat. As such, it's more likely to raise blood pressure and lead to poor political health over time than the more moderate diet Geoff and weboy prefer. But we do love to satisfy our inner carnivore sometimes, even if it clogs our mental arteries.

I don't think it's bad for a magazine with broadly liberal credentials (obviously mixed) to publish views that liberals disagree with. I think it's good for liberals to read things they disagree with. If liberal ideas are so weak that they can't stand up to other ideas being published in their forums, then maybe there's something wrong with the ideas, or at least the liberals who espouse them. Even something like The Bell Curve ought to be read and understood by liberals. It's serious work about a serious topic. If it's wrong, then of course it's to be refuted. But there's nothing wrong with excerpts being published in TNR.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 23, 2007 7:21:17 PM

I don't think it's bad for a magazine with broadly liberal credentials (obviously mixed) to publish views that liberals disagree with. I think it's good for liberals to read things they disagree with. If liberal ideas are so weak that they can't stand up to other ideas being published in their forums, then maybe there's something wrong with the ideas, or at least the liberals who espouse them.

Fucking dammit, Sanpete, for once in your life, write something that's not so obviously riddled with mind-numbing cliches and banalities. Earnest-but-dumb civics teachers can write 3 sentences in their sleep more insightful and valuable that the 3 sentences you just wrote above.

The principle that even small private organizations are not allowed to hire who ever the hell they want to? The principle that small niche groups aren't entitled to their opinion?

How about the principle that a publication claiming to offer fresh and insightful viewpoints on The Issues of Today™ should look for writers beyond a very small, narrow subculture.

Posted by: Tyro | Aug 23, 2007 7:32:28 PM

So true about the wankfest thing. I've heard many of those guys you listed talking on various media programs and have just wanted to slam my head into the table. Who would have guessed they all came from the same place. Somebody just needs to destroy that publication entirely it is doing a disservice to humanity.

Excellent article.

Posted by: wiretapp | Aug 23, 2007 7:35:06 PM

Tyro, if you disagree, try explaining why. Even an earnest-but-dumb blog commenter can do that. If you agree with what I said, then you have a very odd way of expressing it. If you think it isn't relevant, and directly, to what Kathy said, you're just wrong.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 23, 2007 7:46:30 PM

Yikes! My hair's on fire!

Posted by: Sharon | Aug 23, 2007 7:57:07 PM

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