Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
The defeat of President Obama’s gun-control package last week undoubtedly represents the most dramatic disappointment in the entire history of the movement to restrict firearms abuse in the United States. Many observers sadly noted that it might take another tragedy on the scale of December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary to secure enough votes for a serious reform measure. It is interesting, though, and perhaps even instructive, to recall just how brief is the history of gun control advocacy.
Rather than critique the outsized role guns play in American culture and society, as many Nation articles do now, our earliest pieces on the subject discussed firearms much as one would talk about books or paintings: public discussion of guns was seemingly limited to comparison, criticism, and review.
The Nation doesn’t appear to have even noticed the first modern gun control legislation, the National Firearms Act of 1934, which imposed heavy taxes and other restrictions on sawed-off rifles and machine guns. The issue was not an especially divisive one at the time, and the bill was supported by the National Rifle Association.
The first Nation article to critically consider the prevalence of guns in America was “Get Your Gun From the Army,” in June 1964 by Stanley Meisler, which used the Kennedy assassination as a jumping-off point to explore the unseemly collaboration between the US Army and the NRA—“the main force in the gun lobby that has prevented Congress so far from passing any meaningful legislation to restrict the ownership and use of guns,” Meisler wrote—to distribute weapons to hundreds of thousands of civilians and train them in their use. In effect, Meisler argued, the federal government, through the Army and the NRA, was subsidizing far-right-wing militias. If some of Meisler’s criticisms of the Civilian Marksmanship Program are no longer relevant—it was privatized in 1996, though it remains quasi-governmental and tax-exempt—his broad characterization of the gun lobby remains as apt as it was 49 years ago: “Despite the shock of the assassination,” gun legislation “will not be easy. It will be resisted every step of the way by the National Rifle Association.”
Public support for gun legislation after the JFK assassination reached a crescendo after the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the spring of 1968. “Guns, Congress and the Networks,” by Maureen Christopher, an editor of Advertising Age, examined the now-forgotten role the advertising industry played in early gun-control advocacy. “These image makers, adroit at consumer persuasion, are having much less success convincing Congressmen that the United States needs a strong national firearms law,” Christopher wrote. Eventually, the Gun Control Act of 1968 did pass, prohibiting felons and the mentally ill from purchasing weapons, broadly speaking.
Gun control advocacy in The Nation really took off in the early 1970s, with articles like “Getting Serious About Guns,” “The Demographics of Gun Control,” and “The Politics of Gun Control.” In the last of those, Michael Harrington—the congressman, not the socialist—bullet-pointed some of the NRA’s time-tested strategies: “They use their extensive media connections to misstate the details of proposed bills, and to play to fears about race, government domination and subversion by radicals.”
An editorial from the following year, 1975, offers an optimistic analysis depressingly similar to those heard after Newtown: “Congress has let [the] slaughter continue—despite polls showing more than 70 per cent of the American people favor gun control—primarily because of the power of the National Rifle Association… But there are signs that the NRA’s ability to veto gun control legislation is eroding.” Richard Bruner announced a similar false dawn in 1988, beginning his article, “How Citizens Can Beat the Gun Lobby,” by declaring: “Suddenly, the National Rifle Association is on the defensive.” If The Nation has made a habit of wishfully heralding the imminent demise of the powerful gun lobby, the key for truly defeating it is not magic, and it has long been known. “You’ve got to be willing to stand up and take them on,” as Bruner quoted one New Jersey politician saying.
Yet the Senate’s rejection of universal background checks should be the start of a popular movement to hold our leaders accountable. As I argue this week, we’ve forgotten that it took five years of persistent effort across the nation to pass the Brady Billl, the ban on assault weapons and the ban on large capacity magazines in the ’90s. In that period we built a national movement, changed the dialogue, and did what everyone thought was impossible. We slayed the dragon.
Americans need to be mobilized to overcome the intensity of the NRA. As long as the struggle remains one between a passion and a preference, the NRA—armed with a battery of scare tactics and willful lies—will win every time. As the President said Wednesday night, “all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. But this effort is not over.” If we act like it is, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.
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Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
Gun-control advocate Robin Kelly's election to Congress may be the start of a broader shift in the political landscape. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast.)
The Senate’s defeat of common sense gun reforms made Wednesday a dark day—for sensible legislation, and for American democracy. The failure of an already-watered down background check compromise (55 senators backed reform; 45 sided with the NRA) revealed stunning political cowardice. And it illuminated once again the ugly fault lines of our corroded democracy—from the power of special and moneyed interests, to the stranglehold of small state bias (consider North Dakota, whose Democratic and Republican senators both sided with the NRA: the state gets one-fiftieth of our senators, despite having just over one five-hundredth of our population).
If the nation’s laws fail to represent the views of the overwhelming majority of its people, representative democracy becomes an unsustainable exercise. Yesterday's vote—which too many media outlets casually and uncritically reported would “require sixty votes to pass”—showed how badly Democratic leaders miscalculated by not standing strong for true filibuster reform, and how urgent it is to take up that cause again. The 111th Congress saw more filibusters than the 1950s, '60s and ‘70s combined.
Yet amidst the shame and ignominy, what also must be understood is that this struggle to curb gun violence, to join the civilized world, will take time and—most of all—a movement. Supporters of common sense reform have strong and good allies within Congress, and outside of it. If activists were to walk away in disgust, and hand victory to those Republicans and Democrats who obstructed a humane compromise, then a painful setback would become a lasting tragedy.
In our collective shock over the horror of Sandy Hook, many in the country expected immediate action from Congress. But this Congress is incapable of acting quickly. While in the gaze of history it may have seemed quick, we’ve forgotten that it took five years of persistent effort across the nation to pass the Brady Bill, the ban on assault weapons and the ban on large capacity magazines in the '90s. In that period we built a national movement, changed the dialogue, and did what everyone thought was impossible. We slayed the dragon. You could well see that process replayed here, but over a comparatively shorter stretch of time.
The 2014 cycle is not that far away, and with polls consistently showing support for gun reform, members in marginal seats may well pay a price for resisting gun reform efforts. Gun reform advocate Robin Kelly’s recent Illinois special election victory offers a positive sign of things to come. As strategist Bob Creamer noted Wednesday night, siding with the NRA could prove a heavy electoral albatross for Republicans in keeping the House or taking the White House. As Gabby Giffords promised in a powerful op-ed, “if we cannot make our communitites safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s.” Even more encouraging has been the passage of strong, smart statewide gun control laws in Connecticut, Maryland and New York—all states led by governors with a rumored eye towards the Democratic presidential primary in 2016. Activists in these states and others should keep the pressure on to rack up more victories that can filter up to Congress.
The struggle will stay fierce. As retired ATF special agent Ivar Paur wrote recently, “To most of us, including a majority of gun owners, universal background checks are a public safety issue. To the industry and NRA however, they are a loss of sales and stagnant membership.” For a historical view of the NRA’s descent into ghoulish theatrics, just comb through Mother Jones’ recent gallery of NRA ads through the years: from the tame “Do You Belong to a Rifle Club?” (1920) to the indefensible “What’s the first step to a police state?” (1993).
While working to transform the role of money in politics, at this moment we must build a countervailing force to the cash and lobbying of the gun manufacturers and their servants in the NRA, who put fear above safety time and again. The financial commitment made by Mayor Bloomberg to counter the NRA’s financial advantage through Mayors against Illegal Guns is a potential game-changer. So are newly emergent groups like Gabby Giffords' and Mark Kelly's Americans for Responsible Solutions.
But more than money, or a clever message, or a future horror, what will make it possible to beat the gun lobby is organized people. As New York’s crusading Attorney General Eric Schneiderman observed on Twitter, “We need to get Americans organized& passionate about #gunsafety& guaranteeing #background checks…” In the 90’s, the NRA massively outspent those fighting for an assault weapons ban/Brady Bill, but the good guys won.
The hard truth is that while nine out of ten Americans say they support background checks, they aren’t mobilized in the ways they’ll need to be if we’re to overcome the intensity of the NRA. As long as the struggle remains one between a passion and a preference, the NRA – armed with a battery of scare tactics and willful lies – will win every time. As the President said Wednesday night, “all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. But this effort is not over.” If we act like it is, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.
With the Obama administration invoking the Espionage Act a record number of times, we need to celebrate whistle-blowing now more than ever, Katrina vanden Heuvel writes.
One of this year's Ridenhour recipients was Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who sparked immigration reform debate at risk of deportation. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh.)
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
Next week marks the 10th anniversary of an event that celebrates truth telling in the public interest and honors the legacy of Ron Ridenhour, a man not often remembered, who irreversibly changed the course of history.
As a soldier in Vietnam, Ridenhour had started investigating troubling rumors of a terrible war crime committed by U.S. soldiers. In 1969, after returning home, he wrote a stunning letter to Congress and the Pentagon in which he described the horrific slaughter of innocent men, women and children. Ridenhour was a key source for the series on My Lai that Sy Hersh wrote for the Dispatch News Service, which later earned Hersh the Pulitzer Prize. The story of the massacre provoked widespread outrage and was a turning point in U.S. public opinion of the war. Ridenhour himself went on to become an award-winning investigative journalist before his sudden, tragic death at the age of 52.
At a moment when the government is aggressively clamping down on information, it’s worth remembering — and honoring — the importance of whistleblowers like Ridenhour, who tell us the hard truth even when nobody wants to hear it.
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
It is one of the underappreciated advantages of the digital age that when certain prominent people pass away, we need not be held captive to amnesiac, white-washing eulogies. So while President Obama lauds the late Margaret Thatcher as “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty,” it only takes a quick spin through The Nation’s archives to recall the magazine’s running critique of Thatcher and her ideology and, more generally, the great complexities in the folds of history now being steamed away.
In 1980, before his move to the United States and to The Nation, Christopher Hitchens profiled life in his native Britain—scornfully dubbed “Maggie’s Farm”—after “one calendar year of neoconservative governance.” Following the economic and social policies of Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, Thatcher and her fellow Conservatives had begun to tear up the fabric of British life they claimed to be protecting: prices skyrocketed, services were drastically cut, and the rich received massive tax cuts, all in the name of restoring national greatness. “There are no reliable reports on whether or not this enhanced national pride has made the unemployed feel any better,” Hitchens quipped. “Nothing concentrates the mind like a little poverty,” as Hitchens quotes one Conservative official saying.
In February 1985, New Statesman reporter Jane Dibblin wrote about the British miners’ strike, then approaching its one-year anniversary, which was perceived by many, including Thatcher herself, as the ultimate battle between the forces of austerity and the forces of resistance in Britain. Thatcher boasted of having already defeated the “enemy without,” in the Falklands War, and was now going after the “enemy within,” the miners. The strike cost the British government $123 million per week, but as Dibblin noted, that price was seen by Thatcher and her allies as “a worthwhile political investment.” When the miners voted to end their strike just one month later, The Nation editorialized that Thatcher had shown yet again that “her policies can only sharpen divisions, not heal them”—though the hope that her popularity was “finally waning” proved five years premature.
In 1989, Daniel Singer, the magazine’s longtime Europe correspondent, wrote about France’s preparations for celebrating the bicentennial of its 1789 revolution. He noted that Francois Mitterand would play host to the newly-elected President George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and German chancellor Helmut Kohl—“a party that appears more suited to honor Marie Antoinette than commemorate the storming of the Bastille.” Singer wrote that these politicians and their neoconservative/neoliberal intellectual counterparts, “preach the ‘end of ideology,’” yet “positively ooze their own brand of it.”
An especially penetrating critique of what the writer calls “third-term Thatcherism” was offered in April 1990, just as the premier was beginning to lose steam. Taking special issue with Thatcher’s proposed poll tax or community charge—or, one might add, existence levy—the writer attacked Thatcher as “the engineer of social demolition” and her much-touted “enterprise culture” that, he said, “has not only failed to address Britain’s long-term economic decline but has also brought an era of social decay and disintegration. The author of this well-worded screed? Edward Miliband, a former Nation intern, and now leader of the British Labor Party. (Tangentially, Miliband—who is currently trying to steer his party away from its 1990s neoliberal iteration—took aim in the article at what he saw as the feckless transmogrifying of Labor into New Labor. The new strategy, he wrote, “is marked by extreme caution, an avoidance of any appearance of radicalism and a reluctance to argue for anything that might not command majority opinion-poll support.” Words to live up to, surely.)
In a provocative adieu to Thatcher’s reign later that year—she was indeed, as Miliband considered possible but unlikely, forced out by an intraparty coup—Hitchens disclosed the still-shocking fact that he had been spanked—yes, spanked—by Thatcher at a gathering in the House of Lords in 1977, and offered a subtle defense of those aspects of Thatcherism he thought worthy of leftist emulation. After cogently summarizing the “foulness” of Thatcherism, Hitchens concludes that Thatcher—by “hack[ing] away at the encrusted institutions and attitudes that stood in [her] path,” by undermining “every ancestral prop of the British state”—“was a radical and not a reactionary.” Mostly, he thought she had shown that “there is power and dignity to be won by defying the status quo and the majority rather than by adapting to them.” Anticipating Obama’s much-maligned expression of admiration, in a 2008 debate, for Ronald Reagan as a “transformative political figure,” Hitchens concluded: “If the British left, which she froze into immobility like Medusa, could bring itself to learn from this, then we might not have to look upon her like again.”
Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archives, which contain thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
Activists rally in support of abortion rights in Jackson, Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis).
Chalk another one up for the extremists. Three weeks after Arkansas’ legislature overrode a veto and prohibited most second trimester abortions, North Dakota’s Governor signed into law a ban that kicks in just six weeks after conception. As the Associated Press noted, both sides recognize the laws for what they are: “an unprecedented frontal assault” on the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade.
“The thing that’s incredible to me – North Dakota being case in point – is the thought that women’s rights in this country depend on their ZIP code,” the inimitable Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told the Huffington Post late last month. “There are now states where it’s not safe to be a woman.”
This didn’t happen by accident. Rather, there’s a disturbing pattern of states pushing blatantly unconstitutional anti-abortion measures, creating a patchwork of places in the United States where women are treated as second-class citizens who can’t be trusted to make their own decisions. The extreme anti-equality activists are intentionally defying Roe v. Wade in hopes of triggering a constitutional showdown. They want to rewrite the constitution as they go, using it to their benefit when it fits their draconian worldview and disregarding it when it doesn’t. That’s a dangerous precedent to set.
Watching last Sunday’s Meet the Press panel, you’d think that America was an evenly divided, or even center-right country when it comes to the right to choose (“You look at abortion,” insisted Tom Davis, “and actually the country’s moved slightly right”). But that’s just not so. A January Wall Street Journal/ NBC News poll, pegged to the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, showed that a whopping 7 out of 10 Americans support the decision. The basic idea that women should have the right choose is mainstream in our culture. Alas, politics all too often takes far too long to catch up to where the culture is.
In polling, the best-tested language on abortion conveys the common sense concept that this is a decision no one can make for anyone else. People know this to be true: Every situation is different; that’s why the law allows latitude for women to make decisions about when and how they have children with their doctors and their families.
Nonetheless, as the North Dakota debacle reminds us, progressives remain urgently outmatched at the state level. Personhood language is among the legislation pushed by Americans United for Life (AUL), an under-the-radar anti-choice group that shares the savvy state-level focus and the virulent brand of extremism of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). AUL shared its legislation with lawmakers at an ALEC policy retreat. As In These Times’ Sady Doyle noted, AUL’s battery of bills “present a surprisingly comprehensive plan for banning abortion at the state level”, from requiring notarized parental permission, to banning the use of taxes for “training to perform an abortion” at state schools (ALEC itself pushes model legislation including “parental notification” and deceptive “born alive” bills). As our own Lee Fang documents in his latest feature, “conservative think tanks are on the march, working from a similar script to tear down organized labor and promote extreme right-wing policies in state capitols from Alaska to Florida.” It’s long past time for liberals to catch up.
Here’s the good news: Women vote, and they won’t stand for these attempts to shove us back to the 50’s. Women know that our reproductive freedom is the key to our autonomy, and that we are better mothers, citizens, and professionals when we are able to make our own decisions about our own destinies. That’s why these draconian laws are already creating a backlash among women nationwide. These extreme efforts undermine the GOP’s electoral viability – as we already saw last November.
We know that when women are healthy and free, families thrive, communities thrive, marketplaces thrive and nations thrive. This has been proven over and over again. But the anti-family and anti-American bullies pushing these nasty bills could use a fresh reminder.
Lack of availability to safe abortion amounts to torture, according to a new report by the UN. Jessica Valenti covered it in Why Is North Dakota Torturing Women?
This weekend, the 2013 National Conference for Media Reform brings together activists and media-makers from across the country for a vital discussion of today’s most pressing media and technology issues. Nation writers—including Dave Zirin and Aura Bogado—will be presenting alongside other luminaries of the independent media landscape. Watch the live feed here (courtesy of Free SpeechTV).
At a Friday panel, Nation correspondent John Nichols and media scholar Robert W. McChesney, co-founders of Free Press, delivered an eye-opening address on the dangers of media consolidation based on their new report in this week’s print issue of The Nation, “Will Obama Defend Media Democracy?” Nichols and McChesney ask whether President Obama can be counted on to protect democracy in his appointment of the next FCC chair and they examine the consequences of the money, media and election complex.
“In a communications landscape where everything is up for grabs, the most powerful—and self-serving—players are grabbing for everything,” write Nichols and McChesney. “The decisions that President Obama and his next appointee to chair the Federal Communications Commission will make in the coming months could well decide whether new media robber barons will dominate the local, state and national discourse.”
The new battleground for power lies in the regulation of broadband, and former FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps, who served at the agency from 2001 to 2011, is all too familiar with the political challenges of defending "net neutrality." In “The New Telecom Oligarchs,” in this week's issue of The Nation, he speaks out about his front row seat to the capitulation of the FCC in the market-altering Comcast-NBCU merger. As the sole dissenting voice in a four-to-one vote, he recalls the deal that made the US the only country on earth that short-circuited broadband development. For too long, protection of consumers and advancement of the public’s interest has been subsumed by big telecom and big media… and it’s time for a change.
Advocates of media democracy have coalesced around a pick for Julius Genachowski’s replacement as chair: Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law professor Susan Crawford. Praising her recent book, Captive Audience, in his article, Copps details how Crawford’s eyewitness accounting of how the media giants exert a stranglehold over consumers and government reveals the exhaustive reach of their monopolies.
As I argued several months back, Crawford is a leading telecommunications policy expert and proponent of democratizing access to broadband and high speed Internet. In promoting a reasonably priced, globally competitive, ubiquitous communications infrastructure that enables American competition and innovation, she has demonstrated her commitment to making high-speed Internet access a universal, affordable resource. The increasing digital divide between those who can afford access to high-speed Internet service, and the fully one-third of Americans who cannot afford it, is a profound inequity. The conspicuous absence of the FCC in redressing this digital injustice is denying the American people the vibrant and truth-telling media critical for a functioning democracy.
The increasing centralization and corporatization of American mass media has been a longstanding concern of The Nation. After the conservative mogul Frank Gannett’s company bought its fourteenth daily newspaper in 1928, a Nation editorial complained that the nation’s press increasingly “tends to concentrate in the hands of a comparatively small number of men.” In words that could easily have been written in 2013, the magazine continued: “With amalgamations and discontinuances taking place every day, and the difficulties of starting new newspapers almost insuperable, even for the very rich, it is hard to see how this tendency can be overcome.” The Gannett Company today controls 12 newspapers, including USA Today, and nearly two dozen TV stations.
In 1973, Berkeley law professor Stephen Barnett argued in his 10,000-word article, “Merger, Monopoly & A Free Press,” that Watergate-era conversations about the freedom of the press and the role of journalists in democratic society was missing the point. The real story, Barnett argued, was about the media’s own increasing conglomeration and the Department of Justice’s complicity in deriving the American public of competitive news distribution. Tellingly, the cities Barnett writes about, in which the two major newspaper owners colluded to fix prices, frame stories, and ensure mutual immunity, seem almost paradisiacal: most American cities are lucky now to have even one daily newspaper, and only a handful have two.
These anxieties culminated in an unprecedented June 3, 1996 special issue of The Nation featuring transformative reporting by NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller that demonstrated how four mega-corporations—in those pre-Fox days, that meant NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN—amounted to a near-monopolization of televised media. Writers from James Fallows to Norman Lear, Walter Cronkite to Oliver Stone, dissected the tangled relationships represented on a four-page map—the first glossy centerfold ever to appear in The Nation—and noted some of the more glaring acts of omission and commission, as well as conflicts of interest, that occur when so much power, money, and means of distribution are concentrated in the hands of so few. Sadly, almost none of the reforms promoted by the contributors have come to pass, and the cartelization of American media—as well as the detrimental social and political effects that entails—have only gotten worse.
For continued insight into the changing media landscape and how it will affect our democracy, check back in regularly with The Nation as we continue to weigh in on the regulatory responsibilities of the FCC and other government agencies.
Reed Richardson reports on the prophecies of government tyranny, financial meltdown and violent anarchy featured on Doomsday Preppers that are being absorbed into contemporary conservatism.
More than 40 million Americans work without any paid time off. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews.)
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
Ian Rizzio was a 24-year-old mechanical engineering student in Portland, Oregon, managing a sandwich shop to pay his tuition. One day, he woke up sick, but went to work anyway, as he later testified to the Portland City Council. After vomiting in the bathroom, Rizzio spent two hours trying — unsuccessfully — to reach his boss before going home to rest.
When Rizzio came into work the next day, he was fired immediately. With $35,000 in student loans, he feared he’d have to withdraw from school.
Unfortunately, Rizzio is not alone.
More than 40 million Americans—disproportionately low-income, black and Latino workers—cook, clean, fold, and ring us up without any paid time off when they or their children are ill.
This is a banner week for The Nation, and for two of our most essential voices – Columnist Katha Pollitt and Editor at Large Chris Hayes. Both are in the news this week for milestones that reflect the best of The Nation: incisive commentary and thoughtful debate.
Last night was the debut of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, Chris's new nightly program on MSNBC. From his early days writing at In these Times to his reporting for The Nation and his tireless work as our Washington, D.C. Editor from 2009-2011, Chris has always gone "all in” as a reporter. Up with Chris Hayes reflected some of the best in TV news, with Chris and his producing team accomplishing something that was no small feat: holding thoughtful, lively conversations about real issues in a way that was also engaging and fun to watch. Guests genuinely enjoy being on his show, and his work at MSNBC points the way to a new model for how cable news can inform debate.
Chris sparked some controversy last week in describing the lengths he goes to each week to ensure diversity among guests. Also worth noting, though, is the extent to which Chris brings new voices into the conversation. A typical Up panel was as likely to feature a grassroots organizer, a scholar or a Walmart worker as it was a political operative or a TV pundit. Chris has assured viewers that he will continue to focus on tough issues, from emerging labor struggles to poverty, even in the competitive 8PM nightly timeslot. We're rooting for him, and we’ll be following along at the show’s new hashtag, #inners.
We’re also excited to note that Columnist Katha Pollitt has been nominated for a 2013 National Magazine Award in “Columns and Commentary.” The NMA’s are like the Oscars of the magazine world, and Katha stands to take the prize as the industry’s best columnist.
2012 was a tremendous year for Katha as she weighed in on issues ranging from Ann Romney and the 2012 election to free speech and the continued scourge of “fetal personhood” laws. As I wrote in our nomination essay, Katha “illuminates the little-noticed implications of the critical issues facing the country—and the world—today.” Katha’s columns blend activism and commentary, with a provocative edge that calls readers to action. She will compete against past Nation contributor and fellow traveler Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, as well as the great Frank Rich, the New York Times Magazine’s Adam Davidson and Daphne Merkin of Elle.
The awards will be held May 2nd. This is Katha’s fifth nomination. She was nominated in essays and criticism in 1988, 1992 (winner) and 1995, and in columns and commentary in 2003, when she won her second “Ellie.” She’s like the Meryl Streep of magazine awards! Here are her three nominated columns:
March 26th: Protect Pregnant Women: Free Bei Bei Shuai
May 7th: Ann Romney, Working Woman?
October 15th: Blasphemy is Good for You
The Nation’s longtime designer and illustrator Milton Glaser will also be recognized for his lifetime achievements.
We congratulate both Chris and Katha on their accomplishments, and are proud they continue to grace our pages, our website and our masthead.
Watch select highlights from Monday night's first episode of All In with Chris Hayes.
This week, I am introducing a new feature to my blog: incorporating material from The Nation Archive, where you can access 148 years of America’s independent journalism on politics and culture in digital form. For subscribers, The Nation Digital Archive contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to Volume I, Number 1 on July 6, 1965, and all fully searchable. I hope you’ll enjoy the pieces that we move in front of the paywall—which I think are a testament to the extraordinary legacy of The Nation.
The right to marry someone of the same sex is one of the most visible civil rights issues of the past decade, and the Supreme Court reached a new benchmark in the long march toward equality this week as they heard challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor) and Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry).
Law professor and Nation correspondent Nan Hunter reported on this watershed moment from inside the courtroom in Washington, DC. Narrating each day’s events in real time, she explained what the public needed to know as Prop 8 hit the Court Tuesday. The first gay marriage case ever to be heard, the challenge to Prop 8 is as much a technical argument, based on standing, as it is a constitutional issue. At the close of Tuesday’s hearings, Hunter’s analysis reflected that the Court seemed fractured on Prop 8. With a Court this divided, she predicted that there may be no majority opinion—and the marriage litigation wars could continue with virtually no decision in place.
By Wednesday afternoon, after the DOMA hearings, Hunter inferred a much more definitive mood in the Court as the Justices seemed ready to rule on the constitutionality of the law. While the four progressive Justices attacked the arguments in favor of DOMA, the questions put forth by the conservative Justices underscored their support for the existing law. The decision will ultimately rest with Justice Kennedy, and Hunter argues that the Court has compelling institutional reasons to resolve the case before it. On Friday, the Justices gathered to preliminarily decide the outcomes of this week’s cases. While the decisions will not be announced until opinions are finalized, Hunter is cautiously optimistic in her assessment of the ruling for Prop 8.
Outside the courtroom, pundits, activists and politicians have been full of speculation about the two cases. In a much debated opinion piece for The New York Times, Nation legal affairs correspondent David Cole makes the case that the Supreme Court should not decide on the issue at all. While the legal and moral choice for the Court should be clear, the necessity and constitutional authority for taking legal action is questionable. What’s more, pointing to the public backlash following Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade, Cole fears that a wide-reaching decision will only inflame the culture wars. “Prudence and law dictate the same result,” writes Cole: “cold feet at the altar.”
Yet Jill Filipovic adamantly disagrees with Cole’s take, and asks why even liberal-minded people are effectively encouraging the Court to punt on the issue. Not only is a decision based on fear of negative repercussions dangerous both for civil rights and the credibility of the Court, she argues such unequivocal fear-mongering is unfounded. In the case of Roe v. Wade, for example, the abortion issue was a hot-button topic long before the decision was handed down. Conservative architects of the “New Right” had already adopted the issue in a strategic move to politicize evangelicals and realign the party in the 1970s. “Waiting for public opinion to change before affirming the fundamental constitutional rights of a minority group makes a mockery of the entire concept of fundamental constitutional rights,” writes Filipovic.
When it comes to marriage equality, the needle on public and political opinion has already moved—a shift in perception that’s occurred faster than nearly any other social issue in history. During the public airing of arguments, we witnessed Democrats racing to endorse gay marriage and conservatives inching toward alternate band-aid resolutions such as civil unions. Their political posturing mirrored a national trend: over the past decade, public opinion has steadily grown in support of same-sex marriage, swelling to as high as 70 percent among the millennial generation, according to a survey released this month by the Pew Research Center.
In her Sister Citizen column for this week’s print issue, Melissa Harris-Perry argues that the case is already closed. “Though justice delayed is justice denied, whether the Roberts Court upholds or strikes down these particular provisions seems almost irrelevant given this cultural and political paradigm shift. Marriage equality, the stars seem to be telling us, is just a matter of time.” But what happens to marriage then? Harris-Perry looks at the fundamental differences that marriage equality will make—extending a basic civil right and allowing more Americans to opt into associated economic protections and cultural privileges associated with legal marriages—yet she cautions that the movement should be seeking something bigger than the institution. “It would be tragic to allow marriage equality to destroy or marginalize the pioneering work of queer families who have taught us that family is more complicated and more fulfilling than traditional models of marriage can ever capture.”
With the Supreme Court apparently ready to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, it is perhaps instructive to recall how divisive the bill was at the time of its passing—not just in the country as a whole, but even in the Nation family. In a revealing exchange of letters in the January 6, 1997, issue, playwrights Tony Kushner and Craig Lucas criticized Washington editor David Corn for overlooking Paul Wellstone’s vote for DOMA in a piece examining the progressive Minnesota senator’s successful 1996 re-election campaign. Kushner and Lucas argued that somehow the “courage and decency” that enabled Wellstone to vote against President Clinton’s welfare “reform” bill the same year had failed him during the vote on DOMA—“this outrageously unconstitutional bit of G.O.P. fag-bashing.” Corn admitted that Wellstone had sacrificed some of his progressive credentials to shore up his populist ones—DOMA enjoyed wide public support—and acknowledged that, ideally, “the goal for Nationites is to marry” (pun presumably intended) the two traditions.
In a quite visionary essay three years earlier, Kushner had argued that even the legalization of same-sex marriage and the admission of gays in the military would not equal the liberation of homosexuals. Rather, such then-hypothetical victories reflected the aims of an essentially conservative politics—not a threat to the inherently unequal, exploitative system of market capitalism itself, which “could certainly accommodate demands for equal rights for homosexuals without danger to itself.” Kushner called for “a socialism of the skin” which would work to cultivate, in the words of another gay socialist playwright, Oscar Wilde, that which is “wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful” in human beings, and to restore “the true pleasure and joy of living.” Kushner argued that this kind of solidarity and struggle, and not merely legal equality, represented “the far horizon of lesbian and gay politics.” Those are words to remember in a time when leading figures in the GOP are recognizing the truth of what Kushner wrote almost twenty years ago: “Capitalism, after all, can absorb a lot.”
For continued analysis and reporting on essential civil rights issues in the United States, check back in regularly with The Nation as we continue to examine the Court’s decisions and the alleged culture wars.
Laura Flanders ponders: What is about the marriage ceremony that makes a critic of the institution get teary-eyed?
Attorney General Eric Holder, who recently said that some banks are too big to prosecute. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst.)
Bipartisan agreement in Washington usually means citizens should hold on to their wallets or get ready for another threat to peace. In today’s politics, the bipartisan center usually applauds when entrenched interests and big money speak. Beneath all the partisan bickering, bipartisan majorities are solid for a trade policy run by and for multinationals, a health-care system serving insurance and drug companies, an energy policy for Big Oil and King Coal, and finance favoring banks that are too big to fail.
Economist James Galbraith calls this the “predator state,” one in which large corporate interests rig the rules to protect their subsidies, tax dodges and monopolies. This isn’t the free market; it’s a rigged market.
Wall Street is a classic example. The attorney general announces that some banks are too big to prosecute. Despite what the FBI called an “epidemic of fraud,” not one head of a big bank has gone to jail or paid a major personal fine. Bloomberg News estimated that the subsidy they are provided by being too big to fail adds up to an estimated $83 billion a year.