Katrina vanden Heuvel is Editor and Publisher of The Nation.
She is a frequent commentator on American and international politics for ABC, MSNBC, CNN and PBS. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Foreign Policy magazine, and The Boston Globe.
She writes a weekly web column for The Washington Post. Her blog “Editor’s Cut” appears at TheNation.com.
She is the author of The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in The Age of Obama; Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover; and co-editor of Taking Back America—And Taking Down The Radical Right.
She is also co-editor (with Stephen F. Cohen) of Voices of Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev’s Reformers; editor of The Nation: 1865-1990; and of the collection A Just Response: The Nation on Terrorism, Democracy and September 11, 2001.
She is a recipient of Planned Parenthood’s Maggie Award for her article, “Right-to-Lifers Hit Russia,” and the National Women’s Political Caucus 2013 EMMA (Exceptional Merit in Media Award) for her piece “Women for Paid Sick Days.” The special issue of The Nation that she conceived and edited, “Gorbachev’s Soviet Union,” was awarded New York University’s 1988 Olive Branch Award. Vanden Heuvel was also co-editor of “You and We,” a Russian-language feminist newsletter.
She has received awards for public service from numerous groups, including The Liberty Hill Foundation, The Correctional Association, and The Association for American-Russian Women.
In 2003, she received the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Callaway Prize for the Defense of the Right of Privacy. She is also the recipient of The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s 2003 “Voices of Peace” award and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s 2006 “Justice in Action” award. In 2010, she received the Exceptional Woman in Publishing Award honoring women who have made extraordinary contributions to the publishing industry. In 2013, she received American Rights at Work’s Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.
In 2014, vanden Heuvel received the Norman Mailer Center Award for Distinguished Magazine Publishing; the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal; the Center for Community Change’s Champion in Activism Award; and New York’s Young Democrats’ Engendering Progress Award. In 2015, she received the Progressive Congress Leadership Award on behalf of her work “creating pathways of success on behalf of progressive causes.”
Vanden Heuvel serves on the boards of The Institute for Policy Studies, The Campaign for America’s Future, The Correctional Association of New York, The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, Research to Prevent Blindness, The Jules Stein Eye Institute, The Nation Institute, The Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, and The Sidney Hillman Media Foundation.
She is a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University, and she lives in New York City with her husband.
Read the New York Times' article (" Democratic Lawmakers Keep Their Heads Down While Letting the Generals Speak Out") for clues about what's wrong with the opposition party in this great country. It is silent, virtually mute. (For notable exceptions, see Dennis Kucinich's recent statement, "This War is Wrong and Must End," and Barbara Lee's Resolution 141, titled "Disavowing the Doctrine of Preemptive strategy.") Res 141 was co-sponsored by 21 House Democrats, all members of the Progressive Caucus, including Jesse Jackson, Jr, John Conyers, Barney Frank, Lynn Woolsey, George Miller, Bob Filner and Maxine Waters.
As one Democratic Party consultant put it: "Democrats don't need to do any criticism of the Bush Administration right now. The unnamed generals are doing that job for them." So, now we're depending on retired generals, rather than our elected representatives, to speak the truth about this war. If the majority of Democrats in Congress are afraid to criticize for fear of Republican backlash, who will speak for the millions of Americans who oppose the war? The generals? Not my idea of leadership.
For a much needed civics lesson, George Kennan's " Letter to the Editor" in the Washington Post (March 25, 2003) should be required reading for all Dems. One of America's leading establishment figures, now age 99, frail and living in Princeton, Kennan has more mojo than the current Democratic leadership combined.
I love Aaron McGruder's strip The Boondocks. Last Sunday, as I watched the parade of talk shows and listened to the "sabbath gasbags," (props to Calvin Trillin for that delightful term), I saved a few brain cells by savoring McGruder's celebrated syndicated comic and its two central characters.
Huey Freeman: "American democracy is a thing of the past. The media conspire with this administration to misinform a public that is either too scared or too stupid to reclaim their government."
Caesar: "Someone once said, 'The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.'"
In 1951, American social philosopher Eric Hoffer published The True Believer, his first and most influential book. In it he portrayed political fanatics as people who embrace a cause to compensate for their own feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
I can't help but think of Hoffer's book as I watch George W. Bush in the first weeks of war. "It is the true believer's ability to shut his eyes and stop his ears to facts which in his own mind deserve never to be seen nor heard," Hoffer wrote, "which is the source of his unequalled fortitude and consistency."
Bush is reported to have a special epithet for members of his own staff who worry aloud. He calls them "hand-wringers." And according to a recent New York Times article "President Keeps the Battlefield Close at Hand," March 30, 2003), his "Friends and advisers say that Mr. Bush has never expressed any doubt about his decision to go to war--a certitude that those closest to him say he has exhibited most of his life." Well, it turns out that he did crack once. "'The only time I've seen him second-guessing himself,'" said Roland Betts, referring to the days when he and Bush co-owned the Texas Rangers, "'was when he said that we shouldn't have traded Sammy Sosa.'"
As Molly Ivins put it in a recent column: "Across the length and breadth of this land of ours, from the mountain to the prairie, from every hill and dale comes the question, 'Where are the Democrats?'" For weeks pundits have dismissed Democrats as having no clue about how to mount a credible challenge to the failed domestic policies of the Bush Administration. But when representatives of the party's core progressive constituencies gathered in Washington in mid-April at the Reclaiming America conference, sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future, it was possible to imagine the lineaments of such an opposition. Members of Congress like Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Sheila Jackson Lee and Senator Paul Wellstone, who have been pressing for months for a more aggressive Democratic stance on domestic issues, no longer sounded like voices in the wilderness of post-September 11 politics. These leaders of the democratic wing of the Democratic Party were joined at the podium by House minority leader Dick Gephardt, Senator John Edwards and Vermont Governor Howard Dean--all prospective presidential candidates--who seconded Schakowsky's message that the Republican agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy and service cuts for the majority is making the rich richer, the poor poorer and the middle class less secure.
A Democracy Corps survey, released by pollster Stan Greenberg at the conference, provided evidence of public support for an issues-based assault on the Bush Administration's domestic agenda. As Joel Rogers, co-author of America's Forgotten Majority, aptly summed up: "On a broad range of basic concerns, ranging from investing in education, securing affordable healthcare for all, protecting Social Security, lifting the minimum wage to a living wage, leveling up not down in trade, protecting workers on the job as well as the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink, large majorities of Americans stand with us and oppose Bush's policies." And as Senator Jon Corzine argued, the Enron scandal reminded a lot of people "that the pendulum has swung far too far to the right, now endangering our prosperity as well as our core values."
So if progressive values are flourishing at the grassroots, how come Democrats in Congress continue to be cautious? That's a question that speakers like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ivins, National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy and populist political agitator Jim Hightower asked in well-received speeches at the conference. We'd like to think that Gephardt and others headed back to Capitol Hill as ready to fight as their rhetoric suggested. But we know Gandy was right when she said that progressive activists must keep the pressure on by refusing to be satisfied with a little bit of Congressional opposition to the Administration's right-wing agenda. It is time, Gandy and others said, for progressive Democrats to start demanding that our representatives give us more victories like the defeat of Mississippi Federal Judge Charles Pickering's nomination to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. As long as there is no bold challenge to the extremism of this Administration, it will exploit the tragedy of September 11 to stifle debate and push national policy in an ever more regressive direction.
Barely six months after Russian President Vladimir Putin became the Bush Administration's most valuable ally in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, the promise of a historic US-Russian partnership is being squandered. Indeed, this second chance to establish a truly cooperative relationship with post-Communist Russia--after the lost opportunity of the 1990s--is being gravely endangered by Bush's own policies.
During the weeks after September 11, Russia's contribution to the US counterterror operation in Afghanistan exceeded that of all of America's NATO allies together. Not only did Moscow provide essential intelligence information, it allowed the Pentagon to use its airspace and crucial Soviet-built airfields in Central Asia. It also stepped up its military assistance to the Afghan Northern Alliance, which Russia had supported long before September 11 and which did most of the ground fighting until recently. Even Russia's pro-Western lobbies are now asking, "What did we get in return?" Or as a leading member of the Parliament defense committee told us, "After September 11, we thought we were strategic partners, but America is an unreliable partner who completely disregards the interests of Russia."
Indeed, the arrival of the two of us in Moscow in March coincided with the Los Angeles Times revelations about the Pentagon's new nuclear doctrines, which continue to include Russia as a possible target of a US attack. It was the lead story for days in Russia's media, and most of the headlines and commentary were angrily anti-American. Komsomolskaya Pravda, Moscow's largest-circulation newspaper, featured a half-page illustration of a muscular Bush as Rambo, cradling a machine gun and flanked by his warriors--Rumsfeld (in a metal-studded headband, brandishing a bloody sword), Cheney, Powell and Rice. Protests against US policy and Bush himself reached such levels that the US ambassador called in Russian journalists to chastise them for being anti-American.
His lecture did nothing to squelch anti-US sentiments, which had diminished after September 11 but are now growing rapidly. Symptomatic was the view, widely expressed in media commentary and public opinion polls, that a US-led plot had deprived Russian athletes of gold medals at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Scarcely less resented was Bush's decision to impose tariffs on Russian steel, which increased belief in American hypocrisy about the virtue of "free markets."
More serious, however, is the opinion spreading across Moscow's political spectrum that the Bush Administration's war on terrorism now has less to do with helping Russia--or any other country--fight Islamic extremism on its borders than with establishing military outposts of a new (or expanded) American empire ("a New Rome," as a leading politician's aide remarked to us) with control over the region's enormous oil and gas reserves as its primary goal. Even Russians who consider themselves pro-American are understandably finding it increasingly difficult to counter this charge.
After all, viewed from Moscow, since September 11 the Bush Administration seems to be systematically imposing what Russia has always feared--a hostile military encirclement. This is not merely the product of anti-US conspiratorial theories. In fact it is likely that by 2003, there will be a US or NATO military presence in at least eight or nine of the fifteen former Soviet republics--four or all five of the Central Asian "stans," Georgia and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Not surprisingly, President Putin, Bush's alleged "partner," is coming under increasing high-level attack in Moscow as a result of White House policies. Putin's policies have unleashed angry charges that he is "losing" Central Asia and the Caucasus while succumbing to US imperialism. Of special importance, and virtually without precedent in Soviet or Russian history, has been a series of published "open letters" signed by retired generals, including one of former President Yeltsin's defense ministers, accusing Putin of "selling out" the country and "betraying" the nation's security and other vital interests.
The Kremlin is, of course, trying to defend what Putin's supporters call his "strategic choice" of an alliance between Russia and the United States and to discount the Bush Administration's recent steps. But a fateful struggle over that choice--and perhaps Putin's leadership itself--is clearly under way in Russia's political class. A pro-Western newspaper headline responded to the Pentagon's new strategic doctrines: America Prepares Friendly Nuclear Strike for Russia. Even given Putin's personal popularity with the Russian people and his backing by the Western-oriented energy oligarchs, it seems unlikely that he can go along with this fictitious "partnership" much longer.
If nothing else, the new US strategic thinking, including its enhanced status for tactical nuclear weapons, strengthens elements in the Russian military that have lobbied since the 1990s for giving "surgical" battlefield nukes a larger role in the Kremlin's own doctrine. As a leading Russian military specialist argues, the new US doctrine gives the Russian military additional arguments for new testing and deployment. "If the United States resumes real nuclear tests to make the new weapons," he wrote in early March, "Russia will soon follow." Indeed, in late March the head of the Parliament defense committee called on Putin to upgrade Russia's nuclear weapons capability in response to the US missile defense program.
All this suggests that the scheduled May summit between Bush and Putin, in Russia, may turn out to be little more than a show designed to promote the two leaders' political fortunes, but that does nothing to achieve today's most urgent security need--sharp reductions in both sides' nuclear arsenals. ("Storing" instead of destroying warheads, as Washington insists on doing, for instance, would not actually reduce those weapons or Moscow's growing sense of military insecurity.)
None of this is in America's true national interest. The post-cold war nuclear world, as this magazine has long pointed out, is more dangerous than was the cold war itself. The primary reason, September 11 notwithstanding, remains the instability of Russia's post-Soviet nuclear infrastructures. CIA director George Tenet has emphasized, for example, the imminent danger that Russia's nuclear devices, materials and knowledge might become the primary source of proliferation.
The Bush Administration's policy of treating Russia not as a real partner, with its own legitimate national interests, but merely as a part-time helper when it suits US purposes as well as a potential nuclear target only increases these dangers. In this fundamental sense, the United States today has an Administration whose Russia policies are endangering America's national security.
IF I HAD A HAMMER...
I agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel on the necessity of building a better infrastructure to combat the right-wing corporate giant ["Building to Win," July 9]. The right has the money and the media. The progressives have the brains and the moral highroad. Let's keep to the latter while concentrating on how best to position the former. Newt Gingrich used computer technology to fire his misguided agenda. Progressives need to capture the Internet as the means to train, inform, meet and proselytize (The website Common Dreams is a good start). Technology can go far beyond a simple reprinting of well-written articles. I suggest that the web be our printing press as well as our town meeting hall to take back our party, the Democratic Party, and to then move the rest of the country back from the fringe of fascism.
New York City
Unquestionably, infrastructure is essential. But until we regain command over the buzzwords, conservatives hold the advantage. After a relentless barrage of invective by conservatives and sixties radicals, "liberal" became a term of opprobrium. "Marketplace" must be shown to be a myth; "privatize," a synonym for corrupt favoritism; "missile defense initiative," a form of corporate welfare; "interests" returned to its original meaning, corporate oligopoly; "tax reduction," a transfer of wealth from those who have little to those who have much; "globalization," a search for the most repressive dictatorships that deliver the lowest wages and costs. Government and labor must be what they were in the past, the only counterweights to supranational conglomerates.
Katrina vanden Heuvel perpetuates a common misunderstanding when she states, "The 1997 Supreme Court decision against the New Party...has chained us constitutionally to the existing duopoly." Not so. Nothing in the Constitution "chains" us to the two-party system. Only federal law does. A statute passed by Congress forces states to gerrymander their territories into single-member districts. This law entrenches duopoly politics, because a one-winner election turns third parties into spoilers and encourages voters to hold their noses and vote for one of only two candidates. Thus, states are prevented from using proportional representation (PR), which the Constitution would allow. By using larger, multimember districts and preference or party-list voting, PR would give third and fourth parties a chance. A bill in Congress, HR 1189, the Voters' Choice Act, would eliminate the single-seat requirement, allowing states to experiment with PR. The duopoly can be broken without having to face the Supreme Court or amend the Constitution. It's a legislative issue, like other election reforms, and progressives should be leading the way.
Midwest Democracy Center
VANDEN HEUVEL REPLIES
New York City
I'm sorry if my shorthand summary of our present predicament was confusing. It is quite true, of course, that the Constitution does not mandate a two-party system. Indeed, it says nothing at all about parties. Our duopoly is a creation of statutory law and administration rule, and in principle we could change it by the same means. The age-old problem, however, is that the very duopoly the law protects also runs our government and has never shown the slightest interest in increasing competition. So those who wish to reform the system are forced to use citizen initiative or the courts.
What the Supreme Court's decision in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party did was in effect to preclude the second line of attack. Steered by the same Gang of Five that later gave us Bush v. Gore, it held that the current major parties werefree to construct electoral rules for the exclusive purpose of limiting competition to themselves. Just how profound a departure from past law this was is important to see. Before Timmons the Court often recognized the endurance of our two-party system and even the possible virtues of the duopoly over other electoral systems. But what it had never done was misread the Constitution to favor party duopoly, and it had always treated any effort by the two major parties to reproduce themselves indefinitely as the duopoly--by erecting artificial barriers to new party entry and effective competition--with something approaching contempt. The Court said in Timmons that existing parties had a legitimate interest in doing just that. Moreover, it declared itself prepared to uphold this interest regardless of a showing, as was made and accepted in the case, that doing so hurt our electoral system's representativeness with no gain in any other electoral value--accountability or stability, for instance--traditionally recognized by the Court. After Timmons, I see no constitutional argument that might successfully be made against the rules upholding our duopoly. That's what I meant by saying the decision "chained us constitutionally."
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL
A MODEST PROPOSAL
I know a place where the Navy can shift its bombing operations that will make everybody happy--Martha's Vineyard [Angelo Falcón, "Liberating Vieques," July 9]! Like Vieques, the Vineyard is a charming island with easy access to sea and land. With more than three times Vieques's paltry fifty-one square miles, it should afford the Navy a much wider range of out-of-the-way targets. And since the peak season runs only about three months, there'll be ample opportunity to squeeze in the 180 days a year of bombing the Navy says it needs to maintain readiness. Since the Navy claims these operations have no significant impact on public health, safety, economy, ecology or quality of life, I don't foresee a problem.
YOU CAN TAKE THIS VOTE & SHOVE IT
As one of those blue-collar white folks examined in Andrew Levison's review of why most supported Bush in the last election, I'd like to point out that most of us didn't support anybody--refusing to take what time off we have to vote for one elitist son of a politician over another. Just whose version of NAFTA were we supposed to endorse? As best as I can tell, a lot of scholarship went into explaining the obvious ["Who Lost the Working Class?" May 14].
Working white folk have been abandoned for decades by the Democrats and corporate labor, a feeling native workers "of color" are beginning to experience. Racial divisions were exploited by conservatives for profit and liberals for posture. And while we knocked heads over jobs and wages, the libs and cons retired to their clubs under the awning of loyal opposition.
Levison continues the obvious fallacy that unions represent the majority of workers and their interests. After they purged action-oriented activists a couple of generations ago, their flaccid advocacies have served only to diminish their own numbers, bolstered today only by a willingness to adopt scabs once workers have lost their jobs. The new predominant service industries require servility over skill. Americans suck as servants. Immigrant labor, so unsurly and so adored by progressives, met no opposition from the liberal side until it impacted jobs of college graduates in the high-tech industries. Republicans don't have the working-class vote any more than the Democrats have our interest at heart. It don't take four years in the Ivy League for most of us to recognize the two empty husks in the American shell game.
I recognized the values Andrew Levison enumerates as "working class," and his description of the 1950s, from my own experience as the daughter of an East Texas railroad engineer and labor organizer. We used to iron my father's striped work overalls, so he left the house each day starched and clean and returned greasy. But in the 1950s he started wearing a suit to work and would change into his overalls at the rail yard. Even as a child, I sensed the shame that had replaced his militancy.
"Who Lost the Working Class?" fails to mention two singular men who also toiled in Andrew Levison's vineyard. Where is Will Gavin (whose prophetic 1975 sleeper, Street Corner Conservative, argued that the "Right" kind of Republican could take all the marbles in places like the People's Republic of Queens)? And what about the late Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Tom Fox (who in 1976 coined the phrase "Reagan Democrats")? I gave Fox my own Rx for the GOP: Let Jerry Ford spend more time with Joe Garagiola (and less with Henry Kissinger) and he wins. But they didn't. So he didn't.
NOEL E. PARMENTEL JR.
NOT BY SEX ED ALONE
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Marjorie Heins disputes myths of abstinence-only education only to uphold the myth that better sex education would eliminate the difference between high US and low European teen pregnancy rates ["Sex, Lies and Politics," May 7]. In fact, the biggest reason for the difference is poverty. In more affluent communities where US teenagers have poverty rates as low as those of European youth (around 5 percent), US teen pregnancy rates are as low as Europe's; in America's impoverished inner cities and rural areas, teen pregnancy rates are 20 times higher. Black and Hispanic adolescents suffer poverty levels triple those of white youths, and the Centers for Disease Control's latest report shows that black and Hispanic adolescents have pregnancy rates three times higher than whites'.
Comprehensive evaluations of American teen pregnancy prevention do not show that sex and abstinence education reduce pregnancy rates but that poverty exerts powerful effects. The best evidence indicates that sex education and contraception provision help to deter pregnancy only when accompanied by social and economic reforms that provide expanded opportunities for poorer populations. By drastically overstating the effectiveness of programmatic interventions, sex education advocates interfere with the crucial need to redress America's grotesque socioeconomic inequalities and youth poverty levels.
COLD WAR CITATION REVISIONISM
New York City
In my July 16 essay, "Cold War Ghosts," I should have cited either Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes's Venona or Allen Weinstein's Perjury rather than The Haunted Wood (by Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev) for the argument that since the person code-named ALES returned from the Yalta Conference via Moscow, and Alger Hiss did the same on a plane carrying three others, none of them spy material, ALES was probably Hiss.