How We Do It
Putting out a monthly magazine is a tricky business at the best of times, and never more so than in a month like this, with a momentous election taking place on November 2. This issue of Commentary is dated November 2010. I am writing these words on October 6. Everything else in the issue has been edited and laid out, and those layouts are being proofread. We will transmit the 72 pages of this issue electronically to our printer on October 11, and in the middle of the following week, we will receive the first printed copies. You should have received your issue at the very latest by the end of the first week of November, depending on the good offices of the U.S. Postal Service. Or you might have downloaded it beginning at 12:01 a.m. on November 1.
So how can Commentary discuss the meaning of an election that has yet to occur in an issue most of our readers won’t get to until after the balloting takes place? The bravura article that leads this issue, Bill McClay’s “The Report of our Death was Greatly Exaggerated,” can give you some sense of how we attempt to handle these sorts of exigencies. McClay’s piece does not refer to the election specifically but to the general mood that informs it, and it explains some of the ideological passion in which it is bathed.
The article was not commissioned with the thought that it would serve as the lead of our election-eve issue; we first discussed it in mid-June. But as the election approached, the time seemed especially ripe to offer McClay’s amused history of the eagerness with which opponents of conservatism and neoconservatism always seek to declare these tendencies ready for the embalmer’s table—and how that eagerness has collided with the sensibilities of the American body politic.
Our monthly deadlines came into conflict with another real-world deadline when it came to another article in this issue, “Netanyahu’s Balancing Act.” We asked Shmuel Rosner to write the piece weeks before September 26, the date on which the Israeli premier’s freeze on settlement housing construction was scheduled to terminate. We knew a crisis might result, in which case the original conception of the article might have to be completely rethought. As it happened, the fact that nothing much actually happened as a result of the freeze’s ending strengthened Rosner’s argument—that the Bibi Netanyahu of 2010 is a far more formidable politician, political player, and political strategist than the Bibi Netanyahu who made a hash of his first go-round as prime minister in the 1990s.
What a monthly magazine has to offer is not, of course, on-the-spot analysis. That never was its role, and therefore a monthly like this one has a new kind of life at a time when even blogs are finding that their advantage over the print media is being threatened by the fact that you can spend three minutes on Twitter and inhale a variety of opinions about any given event as it happens, in real time, a mere 140 characters at a time (which is probably as much depth as conventional wisdom needs to express itself).
My hope is that the kind of perspective provided by McClay’s and Rosner’s articles gives the lie to the frenetic feeling that significant events and significant actors on the world stage can best be understood by taking note of every raised eyebrow, every cough, every stray gesture. The immediacy of information threatens to turn all of us profoundly myopic, able only to see the bark on the trees, let alone the trees, let alone the forest. If Commentary does its job, it should help you find the path out of the woods.