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The new New Republic

Ronald Radosh

Kudos to Marty Peretz, who from 1974 when he bought The New Republic and became its editor-in-chief, to 2011 when he sold the magazine to Chris Hughes, has now taken a brave public step: he has gone to print in The Wall Street Journal to write that having read the cover story in the current issue by Sam Tanenhaus, “I still don’t recognize the magazine that I sold in 2012 to the Facebook zillionaire Chris Hughes.” Peretz continues:

'Original Sin,' by Sam Tanenhaus, purported to explain "Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people." The provocative theme would not have been unthinkable in the magazine's 99-year history, but the essay's reliance on insinuations of GOP racism ("the inimical 'they' were being targeted by a spurious campaign to pass voter-identification laws, a throwback to Jim Crow") and gross oversimplifications hardly reflected the intellectual traditions of a journal of ideas. What made the "Original Sin" issue unrecognizable to this former owner is that it established as fact what had only been suggested by the magazine in the early days of its new administration: The New Republic has abandoned its liberal but heterodox tradition and embraced a leftist outlook as predictable as that of Mother Jones or the Nation.

Peretz is more than correct; the magazine has become an adjunct of the Obama administration, shilling for it and the most leftist Democrats. Its current stance brings to the face the blatant lie by its new owner and editor-in-chief, Chris Hughes, who has publicly said that the magazine will be non-partisan and balanced. This was not what made the journal a must-read in the 70’s and 80’s. Indeed, as I argued the following a few months ago on this page:

Before long, TNR took positions that furiously antagonized its liberal base. In the '80s, during the Central American wars in which the Reagan administration took on the fight against the Communist revolutionaries in El Salvador and Nicaragua, TNR stood with those opposed to the Sandinistas and the FSLN. Indeed, at a critical moment, the magazine's editor-in-chief, Marty Peretz, openly sided with Nicaragua's contras, the very armed resistance to the Sandinistas that the liberal community had painted as a bunch of fascist goons. That editorial position enraged many of its editors, who signed a letter to the editor protesting the magazine's editorial. Before long, whenever TNR took a position opposite to that taken by most self-proclaimed liberals, a new saying emerged in Washington D.C. circles, 'even the liberal New Republic says….'

I predicted that since Hughes said it would be a magazine of “progressive values,” that the journal of opinion would quickly veer to the left, and would abandon the stance that once made it essential reading and that gave it a cutting edge that one had to read, whether or not you disagreed or agreed with its positions. I asked: “Does anyone really think that Hughes will let his new magazine be anything but a vehicle for a second Obama administration?” Some we hre skeptical of my call, arguing that I had not given the new TNR a chance. Sadly, I have been proven correct, and finally, Marty Peretz himself now feels the need to make this quite clear.

I went on to argue that we did not need a magazine slightly to the right of The Nation, and for the intellectual group, we already had the left-wing slant of The New Yorker. At the time, I hoped I was wrong, but saying that I was essentially a pessimist, “I only expect the worst.”

Peretz accurately summed up what TNR represented when he ran it:

We were for the Contras in Nicaragua; wary of affirmative action; for military intervention in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur; alarmed about the decline of the family. The New Republic was also an early proponent of gay rights. We were neoliberals. We were also Zionists, and it was our defense of the Jewish state that put us outside the comfort zone of modern progressive politics.

The only position Peretz mentions that the journal still adheres to is gay rights, since that too has become a main cause of the left, one that is not surprising to those who make identity politics their major and sometimes only concern.

Now, with their new first issue featuring a softball interview with the President, a virtual love-fest to his presidency by a publisher and editor-in-chief who served on his 2008 election campaign, and a second issue with a facile and extreme denunciation of Republicans as racist by Tanenhaus, its true colors are all too clear. The cover, one obviously taken from the Beatles’ famous “White Album,” reveals the new TNR—all hat, no cattle. It’s slick, larger and better print, and more glossy paper. Within its pages, is a very clear lack of any real substance.

Owner and now editor-in-chief Hughes is trying to rescue the magazine by lowering its subscription price from close to $100 a year to a low $35, and with throwing out ideas such as starting a network of TNR stores that will sell the magazine along with coffee and items with the magazine’s logo. Somewhere, Walter Lippmann, Herbert Croly, and the contributors Peretz mentions—the likes of Virginia Woolf, Reinhold Niebuhr, Rebecca West and John Maynard Keynes—are looking at the magazine and saying “what is this strange rag that is using the name of our old venerable publication? We simply can’t recognize it.”

So long, TNR, you will be missed.

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