Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Fix Bankrupt Student Loan Proposals

Gan Golan, of Los Angeles, dressed as the “Master of Degree” holds a ball and chain representing his college loan debt. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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.

Interest rates on student loans will double on July 1 unless Congress acts. Since the phrase “congressional action” has become an oxymoron, this will quickly degenerate into an unnecessary crisis, requiring parents and students to threaten their legislators to get any relief.

Why is action even a question? There is a universal consensus—left, right and center—that it is vital to our nation to educate the next generation. If we want to compete as a high-wage, high-skill country, our children will need the best in college or advanced technical training. And all agree that gaining that higher education is a necessary, if not sufficient, requirement for entering the middle class.

So just as we pay for public education for kindergarten through 12th grade, we should ensure that advanced training or a public college education is available for all who earn it. None of this is even vaguely controversial.

Yet, despite this consensus, we are pricing college out of the reach of more and more families. State support for public universities has lagged. Increasingly, the costs have been privatized, with the bill sent to students and families.

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.

Take Action: Implore Your Reps to Support the Student Loan Fairness Act 

Building a Progressive Caucus in NYC: Why it Matters

New York City Council Member and Progressive Caucus Member Jumaane D. Williams, of Brooklyn, joins Occupy Wall Street protesters in marching to Zuccotti Park Monday, November 7, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Anthony Weiner is headline gold. Since the ex-congressman made his candidacy official, the New York City mayor’s race is drawing attention from national outlets and local tabloids alike (though unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be Weiner’s policy positions that they’re interested in). While the headline-writers have a field day, New York progressives are grappling with some serious questions (including): Could we finally elect a progressive mayor? Which, if any, of these candidates would qualify? But too few of us are considering an urgent companion question: What about the City Council?

Because of term limits, almost half of New York’s City Council will be replaced in November’s elections, making this a moment of great opportunity for progressives. While a mayor can single-handedly fuel or obstruct progress, the council could play a crucial role in muscling issues onto the agenda, forcing the hand of the mayor, and forging a more just and inclusive New York. The council has historically been a fairly timid body, but it doesn’t have to be. The public is ready for more progressive representation. In a 2012 poll for the Community Service Society, New Yorkers by a three-to-one margin chose “help working New Yorkers and their families get ahead” over “make New York City a good place to do business” as a policy priority for the next mayor. Strong majorities supported raising the state minimum wage, spending more on education, and mandating paid sick leave.

In the year since that poll, New York City has passed paid sick leave, despite Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s previous recalcitrance, and Mayor Bloomberg’s predictable veto. That victory is due in no small part to the efforts of the council’s Progressive Caucus, whose members provided most of the signatures for the “discharge petition” that helped dislodge the bill. The caucus, first formed in 2010 and currently co-chaired by Councilmembers Brad Lander and Melissa Mark-Viverito, right now includes a fifth of the council.But it’s been punching above its weight class, providing critical leadership in bringing participatory budgeting to New York, expanding our living wage law to cover economic development subsidies, and driving forward the effort to strengthen our ban on discriminatory profiling and create an inspector general for the NYPD.

New York City has a history of national progressive leadership, from our subway system, to our public university system, to our campaign finance system. The caucus is out to restore that legacy, at a moment when it’s desperately needed. With progress so often obstructed or diluted in Congress, cities have a particularly crucial role to play in pushing policies that are both achievable in the short-term and scale-able as national models.

“13 Bold Progressive Ideas for NYC 2013,” a document proposing dramatic reforms: enfranchising legal immigrants to vote in municipal elections; banning employment discrimination based on credit; significantly expanding our bus rapid transit network; revitalizing our Commission on Human Rights.

As Councilmember Lander wrote at The Nation, “Despite representing a huge Democratic majority of New Yorkers (47 of the 51 members are Democrats), the council has played second fiddle to powerful Republican mayors, and frequently yielded to real estate and big-business interests. The goal of the Progressive Caucus is to change that.”

That won’t happen through an “inside game” alone, and the Progressive Caucus’ effectiveness can be traced in part to its deft embrace of an “inside-outside” approach, working very closely with unions, community groups and the Working Families Party, and marching arm in arm with low-wage workers trying to organize, and occupiers facing down Wall Street.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

But to bring about the kind of change we need, the Progressive Caucus needs to grow its ranks. That’s why it’s launched an aggressive new electoral effort, the Progressive Caucus Alliance, aimed at bringing a new wave of true progressives onto the council. It’s an unprecedented effort: a visionary, ideologically coherent group with a broad and popular agenda pushing hard to reboot the council’s political realities. In the past, much of the council’s priorities, policies, and possibilities have been dictated by deals cut among the Democratic Country chairs of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, who hand-pick speakers in a conservative, spoils-driven process that keeps the council timid.

Working with grassroots allies, the Progressive Caucus Alliance is working to elect candidates who will put democratic rules reforms in reach, empower the body to be an independent, progressive check on the mayor, and enact those 13 Bold Progressive Ideas. That won’t be easy, and a report in Friday’s New York Times reveals an additional challenge: “A group of real estate executives and corporate leaders…plans to spend up to $10 million to make sure the City Council elected this fall is friendly to business.”

But the progressives passed their first test, electing Donovan Richards—a young leader drawn into politics after losing a childhood friend to gun violence—in a February special election. Now they’re going to bat on behalf of seven deserving candidates with grassroots credentials, with a few more endorsements likely to come.

They’ve set ambitious goals. Whether they can meet them depends in part on how many New York progressives sign up to knock on doors, make phone calls, do Get Out the Vote, and, yes, donate money (matched six to one for New York City residents). Hard work, but it’ll be more fun and rewarding than reading tabloid headlines about Anthony Weiner.

This Week in 'Nation' History: A New Golden Age for Bicycles?

This week’s long-overdue unveiling of New York City’s bike-sharing program—we need not promote its bank-derived name—has led some to herald the dawn of a new era. “Bicycling, the most efficient form of urban transportation ever designed, is now available when people need it,” wrote Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus, in the New York Post. “I could not be more excited for you.”

What’s lost in these celebrations is the longer history of the bicycle not just as an instrument for exercise or leisure, but as an extraordinarily practical way to get around cities. In the decades before and after the turn of the twentieth century—between its popularization in the mid-1880s and the rise of the automobile in the interwar period—the bicycle enjoyed what some historians have called a “golden age.” Rollin Kirby, the first-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1922, wrote an article for The Nation in 1931, “An Echo of Wheels,” remembering an era when “the world world was awheel, men, women, and children” and “every town had a bicycle club.”

Kirby began to reminisce after seeing an article in the New York World announcing the dissolution of a bicycle club in Newburgh, New York, which had finally resigned itself to the obvious fact “that the bicycle craze would never come back.” For decades past the bicycle’s apparent peak, Kirby wrote,

they went on hoping that [automobiles] might be only a passing fancy; that when the public was tired of being whirled at forty miles an hour along the roads and the novelty of effortless locomotion had worn off, once more sanity would return and they might with safety venture off on a modest club run…Doubtless they argued a bicycle was safer, less noisy, cheaper, healthier than an automobile and that facts so self-evident must, in the long run, bring people to their senses.

From Kirby’s vantage point, that was never going to happen. He found much to mourn in the passing of the bike-friendly world:

I do not know whether it was a better world than the one I now inhabit, but I am certain it was a more leisurely one and decidedly a quieter one. It seems, as I look back on it, a healthier one, although the statisticians tell me the span of human life has been extended since then. The deaths on the highways were trifling then as compared with those of the motor age, and although life, gauged by the ingenious but inconclusive graphs the actuaries present, may have been shorter, it most assuredly was safer on the main roads.

Two years later, The Nation’s anonymous columnist The Drifter—supposedly a pseudonym for the literary editor, Carl Van Doren—expressed some hope that because “the craze for speed might be nearing an end,” the bicycle could someday achieve a comeback. While some considered the bike “extinct” as a mode of transportation, The Drifter reported, the Netherlands maintained special bike paths on certain highways; certain bike-friendly associations in the United States had even attempted to introduce bills into state legislatures “calling for the setting aside of three or four feet on public roads for the use of cyclists.” Clearly, those were the ideological forebears of those contemporary bike-lane proponents whom the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Colorado in 2010 claimed were trying to “threaten our personal freedoms.”

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Some eighty years later, the bicycle has indeed enjoyed a renaissance in cities around the United States and the world. Part of this is due to the inherent populism of the bicycle, Nation contributing writer Ben Adler wrote in “Wheels of Progress” in 2011:

When it comes to combating greenhouse gas emissions, obesity and other hazards of modern life, bike lanes are not a panacea. But they’re a good place to start. Eventually, they can help reshape not just our concept of the city and its streets but the way residents define themselves.

* * *

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.

Why the Military Protects the Command Structure Instead of the Victims

A woman Marine recruit waits to fire an M-16A2 rifle during basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. (Flickr/Expert Infantry)

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.

’Tis the season for scandals—real and manufactured—in Washington. But if our elected officials are searching for a real scandal, maybe they should start with the officer leading the Air Force’s anti–sexual assault initiative who was charged with sexual battery this month. Or the sergeant in Texas who allegedly forced a subordinate into prostitution. Or the 26,000 sexual assaults that happened in our military in the past year alone.

This epidemic has festered for far too long. At this moment, an American female soldier in a war zone is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. Under the current military justice system, victims must sometimes report a rape to their own rapist. Unmarried victims raped by married men can be charged with adultery, while the rapist goes free.

This is all powerfully documented in the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War. The film exposes a military rife with misogyny and sexual harassment. It lays bare the stark reality sexual assault survivors face: Reporting these traumatic crimes often leads to even more trauma. Too often, victims’ claims are used against them, and they are ignored, interrogated or ridiculed. The result is a military system that makes it easier to rape—and easier to get away with 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.

Take Action: Tell Your Senators to Address Sexual Assault in the Military

This Week in 'Nation' History: The Politicization of the IRS

The recent imbroglio involving the IRS allegedly targeting conservative groups for investigation is not the first time the agency has been accused of politicizing its tax assessments—and, as it almost goes without saying, it hasn’t always been right-leaning groups who have drawn its scrutiny.

A major scandal erupted in 1951 after it was discovered that individual IRS agents were being routinely bribed into ruling in favor of certain, typically affluent, taxpayers. A Nation article in early 1952 titled “Internal Confusion in Internal Revenue,” by Norman Redlich, argued that IRS scandals “will exist as long as personal judgments determine how much money individuals and corporations shall pay to the Federal Treasury each year.” Moreover, Redlich argued, vague or lax enforcement regulations—precisely what caused a woefully understaffed IRS office in Cincinatti in 2010 to scrutinize groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names—lead to shoddy evaluation practices and, ultimately, to a loss of confidence in the tax collection process and in the government as a whole.

The quickest way to destroy confidence [in the tax system] is to let the public think that some persons…are “getting away with something”…

Corruption in tax-gathering can never be entirely eliminated from a tax system as extensive as ours. But it can be minimized, and certainly it should not be encouraged by inefficient organization, careless administrative practices, lax enforcement of the law, or patronage politics.

While the current scandal suggests the presence of “corruption” only in the loosest sense, the point remains. As we quoted Michael Macleod Ball, chief of staff at ACLU’s Washington legislative office, in our editorial last week: “Even the appearance of playing partisan politics with the tax code is about as constitutionally troubling as it gets.” Much of this, we argued, is due to the hazy legality surrounding campaign finance in the wake of the Citizens United decision. Sadly, it often seems this vicious circle is precisely the goal of those groups who now claim to be victimized, and who have been trying to insert billions of dollars into the electoral process and to starve government agencies like the IRS for years.

The Nixon administration aggressively used the IRS to go after its “enemies,” as Senator Frank Church’s Senate Intelligence Committee documented with devastating detail in its mid-1970s reports. Years before the Church Committee, however, the tax lawyer Joseph Ruskay wrote for The Nation, in “New Muzzle for Churchmen” from 1972, about how Nixon’s IRS “has demonstrated an unprecedented interest in the civil rights, anti-poverty and anti-war activities of certain religious organizations.” In 1976, an article titled “The IRS Bullies the New South,” by Jason Berry—who wrote most recently for the magazine about Pope John Paul II’s legacy, in 2011—reported that the agency was routinely using its investigative powers to target leaders of the civil rights movement so as to “offset the gains” made in the previous twenty years. “In Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, the IRS functions, in effect, as an arm of political systems which are trying by economic means to keep blacks out of power,” Berry wrote. As in the early 1950s and as today, those local agents were permitted to unfairly target civil rights leaders because of “the structure of the IRS nationally and the perversion of its legitimate powers by regional agents.” After Citizens United, the rules governing the tax status so-called social welfare groups are “very much in flux,” as we argued in last week’s editorial: “It is absurd—and wrong—to expect IRS auditors to sort the mess out.” But so long as the federal regulations regarding money in politics remain unclear—to the benefit of those with much of it—that absurdity will doubtlessly continue.

* * *

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.

Women’s Equality or Public Financing? We Need Both

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is seen before he presents his 2013–14 Executive Budget (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

You’ve got to hand it to them: Republicans know how to find connections between their issues—even if they’re of the perverse, dishonest variety. Last week, New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo urged lawmakers, following Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s sexual harassment scandal, to pass a comprehensive women’s agenda. In a true feat of cynicism and obfuscation, the state GOP responded by attacking proposals for public financing of elections: “The height of hypocrisy is for Andrew Cuomo to claim to support women’s rights while asking New York’s women to spend their tax dollars on reelecting serial sex abuser Vito Lopez and his enabler [Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver.”

Needless to say, public financing of elections is not about drafting citizens to endorse particular politicians. Rather, devoting tax dollars to funding campaigns is a smart and urgent way to dilute the influence of big money, which warps our politics and makes citizens bystanders as the public coffers are drained to reward private donors. But there’s a larger lesson here.

As we’ve seen since Cuomo reached the Governor’s Mansion, there’s a big difference between what the governor backs on paper, and what he’s willing to put his considerable political muscle behind (more often than not, it’s “social issues” where Cuomo chooses to champion progressivism). Perhaps the governor believed all along (incorrectly) that he only had the power to pass one of these landmark pieces of legislation, and chose to put them both out there, thereby creating competition between the movements backing each. But we need campaign finance reform, and we need a Women’s Equality Act that takes on domestic violence, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, pay inequity, and attacks on reproductive choice.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

This situation offers a challenge to progressives, who too often allow themselves to be placed into single-issue silos, and thus pitted against each other. We should know by now that regressive policies usually hit women the hardest, and single moms are often the most acutely affected of all. When we treat “women’s issues” as distinct from clean elections, or labor, or foreign policy, we endanger women and hold back progress.

Defeat or delay for clean elections means fewer women in office. There is a ton of data that women candidates win at the same rates as men. The problem is, they don’t run at the same rates. And the #1 issue given by prospective women candidates who consider but then do not run is that they don’t think they can raise the necessary money. New York’s public financing proposal will, in fact, enable enormous numbers of women to run.

(At the moment, National Conference of State Legislatures data show that New York State, despite its progressive reputation, is tied with Arkansas for thirtieth place when it comes to the proportion of its legislature made up of women—New York City is further along. The three states with public financing—Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine—come in third, ninth and tenth, respectively.)

Just look at Arkansas, where last year the Democratic Party lost the state house for the first time since Reconstruction. Culprits include Koch brothers cash. Once elected, Republicans quickly passed a twelve-week abortion ban, a frontal assault on the lives and autonomy of women across the state. That blatantly unconstitutional law will also have to be defended in court. In austerity-era Arkansas, that will no doubt sap needed resources from already-hamstrung programs that women and children count on. For progressives, there may be single-issue campaigns, but there are rarely just single-issue defeats.

There is an alternative. Governor Cuomo has the chance to mount a real fight for a bolder agenda now. That includes centralizing women’s equality in his agenda, and pairing it with public financing, because they go hand in hand if we care about economic justice and social progress. In the meantime, it falls to the rest of us to build deeper ties, and a less compromised and compromising political movement—demanding a government that respects and reflects women’s dignity and autonomy at the workplace, the doctor’s office, and the ballot box. As history has taught us, an injury to one is an injury to all.

Governor Cuomo wants to get rid of that pesky Working Families Party, Katrina vanden Heuvel writes.

Going Bulworth

President Barack Obama walks to the podium to speaks to reporters at the White House in 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)  

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.  

Going Bulworth.  

The New York Times reported last week that President Obama fantasizes with aides about “going Bulworth.” For those who don’t remember, Bulworth is a brilliant 1998 film by Warren Beatty, depicting a corrupted and suicidal liberal senator from California who is facing a primary challenge while dealing with financial ruin. Unable to sleep or eat, Bulworth suddenly busts out before an African-American congregation in a black church in South Central Los Angeles and begins rapping the unspeakable truths about our politics. The Times report has led commentators to speculate on what the president might say if he went “Bulworth.” What’s revealing, however, is how much could be taken directly from the movie itself.  

As Republicans and the press hyperventilate about inflated scandals, the president could simply “go Bulworth” by borrowing directly from the movie to talk about what the actual scandals are:  

We got babies in South Central dying as young as they do in Peru.

We got public schools that’re nightmares  

We got a Congress that ain’t got a clue

The real crises are mass unemployment and falling wages. Mindless cuts in government spending are costing jobs, slowing any recovery. We have an economy that rewards only the few. Corporations are pocketing record amounts of the economy in profits, while wages hit new lows. The richest 1 percent captured more than 100 percent of the income growth of the society in the two years coming out of the recession. Yet Republicans continue to demand more cuts in programs for the vulnerable and reject even closing tax havens for the wealthy.

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.

This Week in 'Nation' History: Reviewers Have Argued About 'Gatsby' Since 1925

With its Jay-Z soundtrack, bizarre 3-D effects and commitment of Nick Carraway to a mental institution, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has seemed to some critics insufficiently deferential to a precious cultural totem. But long before it won silver in Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels, writers in The Nation offered drastically different assessments on both the book’s meaning and its legitimate place in the literary pantheon.

Carl Van Vechten, a writer and photographer who later served as Gertrude Stein’s literary executor, reviewed The Great Gatsby for The Nation in the issue of May 20, 1925, just a month after the book’s publication:

Mr. Fitzgerald is a born story-teller…[H]is work is imbued with that rare and beneficent essence we hail as charm. He is by no means lacking in power, as several passages in the current opus abundantly testify, and he commands a quite uncanny gift for hitting off character or presenting a concept in a striking or memorable manner…

Up to date, Mr. Fitzgerald has occupied himself almost exclusively with the aspects and operations of the coeval flapper and cake-eater. No one else, perhaps, has delineated these mundane creatures quite as skillfully as he, and his achievement in this direction has been awarded authoritative recognition. He controls, moreover, the necessary magic to make his most vapid and rotterish characters interesting and even, on occasion, charming, in spite of (or possibly because of) the fact that they are almost invariably presented in advanced stages of intoxication…

In “The Great Gatsby,” there are several of Mr. Fitzgerald’s typical flappers who behave in the manner he has conceived as typical of contemporary flapperdom. There is again a gargantuan drinking-party, conceived in a rowdy, hilarious, and highly titillating spirit. There is also, in this novel…something else. There is the character of Gatsby…

But in a review the following year of a stage production of Gatsby, The Nation’s theater critic, Joseph Wood Krutch, mocked Fitzgerald’s blurring of the line between spectator and spectated, satirist and satirized. Almost ignoring the theatrical production entirely, Krutch instead skewered the book:

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born into the flapper age with exactly the qualities and defects which would enable him to become its accredited historian. Though granted just enough detachment to make him undertake the task of describing, he is by temperament too much a part of the things described to view them with any very penetratingly critical eye and he sees flappers, male and female, much as they see themselves. Sharing to a very considerable extent in their psychological processes, he romanticizes their puerilities in much the same fashion as they do; and when he pictures the manners of the fraternity house or the Long Island villa he pictures them less as they are than as their practitioners like to imagine them. He makes cocktails and kisses seem thrillingly wicked; he flatters the younger generation with the solemn warning that it is leading the world straight to the devil; and as a result he writes The Flapper’s Own History of Flapperism. Thus he becomes less the genuine historian of a phase of social development than one of the characteristic phenomena of that development itself, and his books are seen to be little more than documents for the study of the thing which they purport to treat.

The book, Krutch added, was “preposterously maudlin.”

* * *

The Nation has had only distaste for both screen adaptations of Gatsby reviewed in its pages. Painter and film critic Manny Farber panned the 1949 Paramount adaptation as “a limp translation,” writing that the film’s purposefully antiquated style “takes on the heavy, washed-out, inaccurate dedication-to-the-past quality of a Radio City mural.” Farber also said that the actress Betty Field failed as Daisy because she was “no more marked by Southern aristocracy than a cheese blintz.”

“Respectful work and appalling” were the choice words Robert Hatch, a longtime executive editor of the magazine, had for the 1974 adaptation starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Sam Waterston as Nick and Mia Farrow as Daisy, with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola. “When it sticks to the original, it adds nothing; when it deviates, it puts a heavy foot into Fitzgerald’s magic,” Hatch wrote. “Overall, its most conspicuous weakness is that it cannot handle vulgarity or ostentation without becoming vulgar or ostentatious”—precisely the same complaint Krutch expressed about the book itself in The Nation almost fifty years earlier.

Other Nation articles about Fitzgerald include a 1945 essay by Lionel Trilling—putting him in the same category with Shakespeare, Dickens, Voltaire, Balzac and Goethe—and a 1996 appreciation by friend-of-the-magazine E.L. Doctorow, who wrote that “in its few pages” Gatsby “arcs the American continent and gives us a perfect structural allegory of our deadly class-ridden longings.” And as many have argued, the release of “Gatsby” should also be an occasion for renewed discussion of inequality in America.

* * *

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.

Christie's Broken Promise

Chris Christie and Barack Obama inspect the damage from Hurricane Sandy. (Wikimedia Commons/Pete Souza.)

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.

Last week, as news circulated of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s weight-loss surgery, so did a video in which Christie parodied his own brand—and the fleece he wore day and night during the Hurricane Sandy crisis. In the video, he asks everybody from Morning Joe to Jon Bon Jovi if they’ve seen his now-missing fleece, without which he is powerless, like Iron Man without his suit.

The governor may be able to poke fun at the absurdity of, among other things, his rising star, rumored ambitions and “relentless” fleece, but his real shortcomings are no laughing matter.

It was, after all, while wearing that infamous fleece that he raced across his state, doling out no-nonsense quips about recovering from the storm. And who can forget the iconic images of Christie and President Obama surveying the wreckage together, finding love, it seemed, in a hopeless place?

Christie seemed genuinely consumed by the unprecedented destruction caused by what the environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben called a “Frankenstorm….stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural.”

And yet, when asked the obvious question—how Christie would address the climate change challenges that contributed to the superstorm and will, undoubtedly, create more in the future—the famously blunt governor said, “Now maybe, in the subsequent months and years, after I get done with trying to rebuild the state and put people back in their homes, I will have the opportunity to ponder the esoteric question of the cause of this storm.”

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.

This Week in 'Nation' History: Abundance and the Basic Income Guarantee

Fifty years ago, as today, the problem of economic inequality was very much on the minds of Nation editors. The issue of May 11, 1963 was given over—“in the spirit of thoughtful and significant dissent which is the hallmark of The Nation,” the editors wrote—entirely to a nine-chapter investigation by the economist and futurist Robert Theobald of the threat posed to the American economy by abundance. Whereas traditional economics was defined as the art of “distributing scarce resources,” in Theobald’s view the incredible developments of technology in recent years, and the promise of even greater leaps in the near future, meant that the chief economic problem of the time was not scarcity but abundance.

His magisterial essay, published later that year as a book titled Free Men and Free Markets, argued that great technological changes would free up surplus labor and capital to such an extent that it could actually prove detrimental to American society if not adequately harnessed. All the benefits would accrue to the rich, creating stress and disillusionment among the rest of the populace. Radical changes would have to be undertaken in order to accommodate that abundance: first among them what Theobald elsewhere called a “basic living guarantee,” or unconditional allotment of funds to all citizens. Piecemeal compensation like retraining, unemployment insurance, or Social Security wouldn’t improve the situation, Theobald argued. The solutions proposed by traditional economic theory were empty, he wrote:

Unemployment rates must…be expected to rise. This unemployment will be concentrated among the unskilled, the older worker and the youngster entering the labor force. Minority groups will also be hard hit. No conceivable rate of economic growth will avoid this result.

Only broad, systemic, and proactive initiatives like a guaranteed income could do that. One fault of Theobald’s essay is that he was perhaps too optimistic regarding the United States’ ability to adapt to the changes he describes, as here in Chapter IV:

The historian of the 21st century will still be puzzled as he looks back on the nineteen-sixties, for he will never understand our point of view. He will wonder how we could tolerate an exploited minority when it was possible for the remainder of the population to provide for it without damaging their own economic position. He will ask how we could accept a society in which those with money had relatively few unsatisfied needs and those with many unsatisfied needs had no money.

No historian is truly puzzled about this today, of course, since all the problems Theobald describes as of the utmost urgency have only grown worse, and the kind of structural changes advocated by Theobald in The Nation in 1963 have been deferred, to the detriment of so many, for fifty years and counting. That is why our work at The Nation is never done—as we continue to propose systemic economic changes that would lead to a more just and fair society.

* * *

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.

Syndicate content