Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chris Hughes

Liberalism’s Setbacks Aren’t Fatal

Last week was not a good week for the institutions of American liberalism. Which is not shocking, because last month was a terrible month for American liberalism. And that was mainly the result of the fact that the last year has not been a good one for American liberalism. But conservatives ought to remember the greatly exaggerated rumors of their own demise pushed by gleeful and historically ignorant liberals after the American right’s last such slump. Certainly liberalism is experiencing a crisis of sorts, but as Miracle Max could tell them, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.

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Last week was not a good week for the institutions of American liberalism. Which is not shocking, because last month was a terrible month for American liberalism. And that was mainly the result of the fact that the last year has not been a good one for American liberalism. But conservatives ought to remember the greatly exaggerated rumors of their own demise pushed by gleeful and historically ignorant liberals after the American right’s last such slump. Certainly liberalism is experiencing a crisis of sorts, but as Miracle Max could tell them, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.

The continuing ObamaCare disaster, the IRS corruption revelations, and the manifold foreign-policy failures of the Obama-led Democrats over the last year led to a cratering of the public’s faith in the left and produced a trouncing at the polls for Democrats in the midterms. With Saturday’s runoff defeat of Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu coupled with the GOP gains in states Obama won, it is the Democrats who appear at risk of being considered a regional party–an epithet they tossed at Republicans in 2012. How are the Democrats handling being washed out of the South almost entirely? Not well, if Michael Tomasky’s public breakdown is any indication:

Practically the whole region has rejected nearly everything that’s good about this country and has become just one big nuclear waste site of choleric, and extremely racialized, resentment. A fact made even sadder because on the whole they’re such nice people! (I truly mean that.)

With Landrieu’s departure, the Democrats will have no more senators from the Deep South, and I say good. Forget about it. Forget about the whole fetid place. Write it off. Let the GOP have it and run it and turn it into Free-Market Jesus Paradise. The Democrats don’t need it anyway.

The funniest part is the headline: “Dems, It’s Time to Dump Dixie.” In fact, Dixie has clearly already dumped the Dems. If it were only the South, Tomasky’s neo-secessionism would at least be somewhat viable. But the Democrats have lost, at least for the time being, too much of the country to run away from.

The drubbing the Democrats have taken, sealed with Landrieu’s loss, has been so bad that you kind of want to put an arm around Tomasky, buy him a double bourbon (Kentucky isn’t technically part of the Deep South, right? He can still have bourbon?) and tell him it gets better. Because it always does.

Many obituaries were written for American conservatism by the concern-trolling left in the wake of President Obama’s two victories (the first supposedly heralding the death of conservatism, the second confirming it). They were all, without exception, deeply ahistoric and scandalously stupid items of triumphalist rubbish.

But for sheer symbolism, the crowning jewel of the group is without a doubt the essay, later expanded into a book, published in February 2009: “Conservatism Is Dead,” by Sam Tanenhaus. It ran in the New Republic.

Less than six years later, conservatism is alive and the New Republic is dead.

Not really dead, mind you. But to its writers and devotees, it is. I should say ex-writers and ex-devotees, because when last week news broke that Chris Hughes, the accidental Facebook billionaire (or almost-billionaire) and owner of TNR, shoved Frank Foer out the door and with him went Leon Wieseltier, a mass exodus ensued. That’s not only because Foer is beloved by his peers and Wieseltier is an institution. It’s also because Hughes has announced he doesn’t think magazines with lots of big words are worth keeping around anymore, bro, and the literary tradition should be replaced with whatever passing fad can be monetized at this very moment. Carpe diem, and all that jazz. (Well not jazz, I guess, which is a bit nuanced and old and has absolutely no cat gifs in it whatsoever; but you get the point.)

Critics of American liberalism have pointed out, however, that the Altneurepublic being mourned was not the Altneurepublic of popular imagination. There seems to be a general consensus, in fact, that the decline and fall of that TNR became undeniable with its infamous anti-intellectual anthem which began “I hate President George W. Bush,” published about a decade ago.

Not that there weren’t warning signs along the way. The best of these in recent years might be this 2013 Reason magazine piece by Matt Welch mourning “the death” not of liberalism, but “of contrarianism.” With the new New Republic, Welch lamented, the magazine’s modern incarnation as a constructive questioner of liberal received wisdom was gone:

An entire valuable if flawed era in American journalism and liberalism has indeed come to a close. The reformist urge to cross-examine Democratic policy ideas has fizzled out precisely at the time when those ideas are both ascendant and as questionable as ever. Progressivism has reverted to a form that would have been recognizable to Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann when they founded The New Republic a century ago: an intellectual collaborator in the “responsible” exercise of state power.

Liberalism is in crisis for many reasons, but surely one of them is this: it has ceased to look at itself in the mirror. If it did, would it be horrified by what it saw? One hopes.

Whatever the answer, conservatives must also understand the difference between crisis and death. Liberals are still here. The president is a liberal, and the next one might be a liberal too. Democrats have less than half the Senate but not much less than half the Senate. And it was not all that long ago that the country found itself in the bizarre situation of having to pay attention to Nancy Pelosi.

It’s true that a genuinely intellectual liberalism is nowhere to be found at the moment. But it’ll wander back. Crises are good times for political movements to take stock and cease pretending everything is just fine. It is not a matter of if, but when the pendulum will swing back in the other direction. And conservatives should be aware and humble enough to see it coming.

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Sic Transit New Republic?

The news that The New Republic has been sold to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has prompted some worries that the venerable publication may be heading in a new direction. While TNR remained steadfastly liberal in its view of most domestic issues during the past decades, it has also been a resolute defender of Israel and generally a strong proponent of sensible views on foreign policy. The fact that Hughes, who will assume the title of editor-in-chief, was an organizer of the 2008 Obama campaign leaves us wondering whether it will remain so in the future.

But no matter what happens next, it is worthwhile taking a moment to honor all that the magazine achieved under longtime editor-in-chief and publisher Martin Peretz. The distinguished historian Ron Radosh, himself a frequent contributor to both COMMENTARY and TNR, writes about this at PJMedia in an article in which the author echoes our fears while also celebrating the great journalism and the important careers that were fostered under Peretz.

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The news that The New Republic has been sold to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has prompted some worries that the venerable publication may be heading in a new direction. While TNR remained steadfastly liberal in its view of most domestic issues during the past decades, it has also been a resolute defender of Israel and generally a strong proponent of sensible views on foreign policy. The fact that Hughes, who will assume the title of editor-in-chief, was an organizer of the 2008 Obama campaign leaves us wondering whether it will remain so in the future.

But no matter what happens next, it is worthwhile taking a moment to honor all that the magazine achieved under longtime editor-in-chief and publisher Martin Peretz. The distinguished historian Ron Radosh, himself a frequent contributor to both COMMENTARY and TNR, writes about this at PJMedia in an article in which the author echoes our fears while also celebrating the great journalism and the important careers that were fostered under Peretz.

Radosh rightly points out that TNR had a unique niche in the publishing world and it would be a shame if Hughes pushed it further to the left:

I am not optimistic about the fate of the new TNR. The last thing we need is a magazine slightly — very slightly — to the right of The Nation. Nor do we need another New Yorker, in which Hendrik Hertzberg’s predictable left-liberal views dominate the political commentary — and, yes, he too came from TNR as an old editor — and where its editor-in-chief David Remnick stands by the likes of Seymour Hersh as a major investigative reporter, despite the devastating expose of him in the new COMMENTARY  by a former TNR editor, James Kirchick. …

So, this is a swan song and sad goodbye to the old TNR. I wish the magazine well, and perhaps I will turn out to be very wrong. But as a natural pessimist, and for good reason, I only expect the worst.

We share Radosh’s sentiments. Let us hope TNR thrives under its new management while remaining a strong voice in support of Israel and the West.

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