Mutiny Is in Order at The Nation

by , November 30, 2010

John Tyner triggered a wave of protest against the Transportation Security Administration 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 at Salon.com 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.” Raimondo 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 the Ames-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 the magazine. 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 Af-Pak, 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 pro-war 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 pro-war position, as the polls shifted against the war in October 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, but when the hearings did not materialize, silence fell over the magazine. John Conyers was the Democrats’ 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.

In 2008, 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 to 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 irrelevance, eliminating it as a platform for the worthwhile voices that manage to survive on its pages. A mutiny is long overdue.

Read more by John V. Walsh