OUR FRIEND AND ALLY, DON SHAFFER: When I first came to The Nation in 1978, the last guy I thought I’d be interested in meeting was our Aetna life insurance representative, whose name was Don Shaffer. Then I met his wife, Doris, who had volunteered to help put together a dinner in honor of longtime Nation editor Carey McWilliams. She was a dynamo and a pleasure to work with: dedicated, efficient and committed to The Nation. I decided if she could put up with this Shaffer guy, he must be something more than my condescending image of an insurance salesman.
But even before I met him, I discovered that Don was involved with a slew of organizations that were at the cutting edge of peace, civil rights and civil liberties issues. They included various groups in and around Great Neck, New York, as well as the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee and the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, for which he served as treasurer. His circle of friends included such citizens of social conscience as Norman Eisner and Herb Kurz, who were generous in their support not only of The Nation, but of various beyond-the-mainstream progressive causes.
The next thing I knew, Don quit as The Nation’s insurance guy and, at age whatever-he-was, enrolled in NYU’s Law School, where he earned his JD in 1991. From there, he landed a full-time pro bono job with the New York Civil Liberties Union, at a time when it was taking more radical stances than the national ACLU.
Don’t trust me on his personal qualities—for that, ask his three sons or seven grandchildren, most of whom were there to celebrate the much-deserved award bestowed on him last year by The Nation Institute at its annual gala in December. When I had the honor of introducing him that night, I said: “It would be hard to call him modest, because he asserts himself on behalf of the best and most critical causes time and again without stint.” But the fact is that he was notable for never letting ego interfere with mission.
Don was indefatigable. Anyone who cared about the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern and Jesse Jackson would have run into him, as he combined financial support with political activism. His generosity extended to fellowships in the name of his late wife, in support of Nation Institute fellows like Jonathan Schell, Katha Pollitt and, most recently, Eric Alterman.
On a personal note, it never occurred to me and my wife, Annie, when we ended up as part of a community in the Berkshires, that the most politically interesting and inspiring summer events would have been founded and organized, again in Doris’s name, by Don Shaffer. The most recent of these public occasions featured and gave a valuable campaign boost to Elizabeth Warren, the already invaluable junior senator from Massachusetts.
Don, who died on February 17, was one of a kind, and we already miss him and celebrate him along with his good works, whose fruits will be with us for many years to come. VICTOR NAVASKY
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CANADA’S NEW WOMEN LEADERS: On January 26, Kathleen Wynne made headlines around the world when she became Canada’s first openly gay premier, while also becoming the first woman premier of Ontario. Wynne’s victory means that women now lead five of the country’s ten provincial governments (as well as one of its three territories). Moreover, because four of these women govern the most populous provinces, over 85 percent of Canadians now have a female premier.
These numbers are impressive, but they gloss over the unsettling fact that only ten women have held the premier’s post in the country’s history. And only three of today’s six women premiers came into their position by way of a general election. Wynne, for instance, became premier at a Liberal Party convention to replace the recently resigned leader of the party and, by extension, of the province.
Perhaps more important, while Canada’s recent elections may signal progress for women’s representation in electoral politics, they have done nothing to prove that female leadership will necessarily produce progressive social change. In fact, the center-left women premiers seem to have taken a page or two out of the Angela Merkel austerity guidebook. Liberal Premier Christy Clark, of British Columbia, welcomed austerity measures in September after her government’s predicted revenues from natural gas failed to materialize, resulting in a $1.4 billion deficit.
Pauline Marois, whose Parti Québécois was partly built upon its promised elimination of tuition hikes, has since proposed to raise tuition by indexing it to the cost of living. And Wynne came to power having resolved to continue her predecessor’s austerity agenda, despite the protests of activists who staged a huge Election Day demonstration, outnumbering the Liberal Party electorate 10 to 1.
As for the conservative women premiers? Both Alison Redford of Alberta and Kathy Dunderdale of Newfoundland and Labrador lead Progressive Conservative majority governments. They are the ones most likely to lead their parties to re-election—which would be yet another first for Canada’s women premiers. SARAH WOOLF