Death of The Nation

Mutiny Is in Order

John Tyner triggered a wave of protest against the TSA when he recorded himself saying “If you touch my junk, I’m gonna have you arrested!”, pithily paraphrased as “Don’t touch my junk!” But this protest was anathema to the thought police at The Nation, because after all it is now Obama’s TSA, and the virtue of the Messiah’s works is not to be doubted. On top of that Tyner is (gasp!) a self-declared Libertarian.

A smear was in order, and so The Nation quickly served up an innuendo-laden piece attacking Tyner by Mark Ames and Yasha Levine. And it has quite properly provoked a chorus of disapproval. Glenn Greenwald writing in Salon was first to criticize Ames and Levine calling their smear of Tyner a “shoddy, fact-free and reckless hit piece.” Next up was Justin Raimondo who chided Ames (‘I spit on libertarians’) and Levine for their “implausible fiction,” and suggested a modicum of competence would serve them well and that if they wished to be “the ‘go to’ team for the dirt on libertarians…. they ought to learn their subject.” By now the critique of Ames and Levine’s trash must be turning into a cottage industry on the web.

That is all to the good, but too many critics have excused Ames and Levine smear as an aberration. Greenwald calls The Nation “a magazine which generally offers very good journalism,” actually faint praise, and another says she knows “the editors and many of the writers and have nothing but respect for their work.” She is correct about many of the writers, but unfortunately the editorial leadership does not deserve such respect. With the attack on Tyner, The Nation’s editorial leadership overreached, leaving their dismal editorial policy too exposed to be ignored. The editorial leadership determines not only editorial positions but the politics of the articles printed or solicited– and therein lies the significance of the Tyner smear. Quite simply it fits in with the politics of the editorial leadership there. Certainly some of the writing in The Nation is of great merit, for example the perfectly paced prose of Alexander Cockburn’s invaluable “Beat the Devil,” which I suspect is tolerated simply because without it many subscriptions would vanish along with considerable income. My sub would vanish for sure.

But the editorial policy of The Nation for a long time now has been slowly strangling it. The underlying problem is that this once great journal has become a house organ for the Democratic Party. Nowhere is this more evident than in the editorial stance of The Nation on the wars in Iraq and AfPak, especially at the all important moment to our politicians, election time. While the editorial problems at The Nation affect virtually every issue of importance to its readers, let’s simply focus on the question of war and empire to see the nature of the fault.

In 2004, The Nation endorsed John Kerry on its cover despite the fact that he ran as a prowar candidate. Ralph Nader was also turned into a non-person in the pages of The Nation for daring to run again as an independent. The unappealing and egotistical Kerry may have lost the election because of his prowar position since the polls shifted against the war in October of 2004 to a near majority, too late for Kerry to make the switch. Had he taken on the war and opposed it, that shift might have turned into a majority against the war and Kerry might have been the victor.

Then came 2006 when the Dems promised impeachment hearings against Bush for his wars should they win control of the House. The Nation urged us to vote Democratic, and when the hearings did not materialize silence on the issue fell over The Nation. John Conyers was the Democrat’s poster boy for the promise of impeachment, but after the election he folded at once. The much ballyhooed impeachment hearings never materialized, and Conyers slunk away.

Next was 2008 when The Nation backed Obama, the candidate of the most “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party and of “Progressive” Democrats of America. The endorsement was proffered despite the fact that Obama was promising to step up the war in Afghanistan. When Obama won and the wars continued and military spending increased above Bush levels, The Nation went limp in its criticism of Empire. Yes, there were exhortations of Obama to do the right thing, implying that he wants to do so, a proposition so lame at this point as to be comic, but never attacks like the well deserved salvos fired at Bush for the very same policies on war and civil liberties.

Principled voices on both Left and Right are necessary in this country if war and Empire are to be defeated. The Democrats are a party of war, and the The Nation claims to be a journal of peace. The two cannot be reconciled. Regrettably under the current editorial leadership at The Nation, party has been chosen over principle. When will the subscribers to The Nation and those of its writers who remain true to principle revolt and install new editorial leadership? On its present course The Nation is doomed to sink into marginality and irrelevance, eliminating it as a platform for the worthwhile voices which manage to survive on its pages. A mutiny is long overdue.

John V. Walsh, @JohnWal97469920, until recently a Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, has written on issues of peace and health care for several independent media. Read other articles by John V..

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mark E. Smith said on November 30th, 2010 at 12:28pm #

    I like The Nation’s cryptic crossword puzzle, but every time I’d accept their free trial subscription they’d run another gratuitous smear of the late Andrea Dworkin and I’d have to unsubscribe.

    Sexists who don’t like equal opportunity laws, laws against workplace harassment, wife-rape laws, and laws that would allow people exploited by pornographers to seek damages, get cheap ratings by smearing Dworkin, but she was single-handedly responsible for much of what little female equality exists in the U.S. She was also an early critic of Israel and one of the greatest writers the U.S. has ever had.

    Andrea Dworkin was a true dissident and The Nation is just a bunch of reformers and apologists for oligarchy.

  2. M Richards said on December 1st, 2010 at 3:22am #

    I long ago stopped reading The Nation for material of the leftward persuasion. The Nation left the barn in the Clinton administration, but was well on its way out that door in the early 80s. Today, The Nation is (charitably) but a pale wraith of what it once stood for. Further, it demeans what it purports to stand for now.

    I agree. The Nation has left the building. I no longer read The Nation.