George Plimpton, who died September 25, wore lightly his New York upper-class WASP heritage, but it was the real thing. Scorning entitlements of birth, he followed the young writers’ trail to Paris in the 1950s and co-founded The Paris Review. Thanks to Plimpton’s dedication and perseverance, it survived and continues to set the gold standard for literary magazines. Meanwhile, Plimpton was becoming a celebrity by acting out sports fantasies and writing up his experiences in bestselling books. He played quarterback for the Detroit Lions (Paper Lion), joined the PGA circuit (The Bogey Man). Though basically nonpolitical, he was a friend of The Nation, volunteering to emcee fundraising events. During the Reagan Administration Victor Navasky proposed an article for Plimpton–call it “Paper Attorney General.” The idea was, he would use his history as a participatory journalist to wangle a chance to replace Ed Meese for a day. Once in the suite of power, he would issue a proclamation repealing the long list of reactionary policies the Meese Justice Department had imposed. It would have been a great stunt, but the department never got around to giving our friend the green light. Too bad–and sadder still that our friend George is no longer with us.


Bruce Shapiro writes: Arthur Kinoy, a friend of and contributor to this magazine, who died on September 19 at age 82, never really believed that lawyers bring about social change. The lesson he took from years in Southern courtrooms fighting segregation and defending civil rights activists was that “legal battles to enforce freedom and equality had potential only when they were intertwined with the daily struggles of black people and their supporters to transform these constitutional promises into reality.” Kinoy’s early career was shaped by the Communist Party of the Depression years, and a 1950s legal partnership with Frank Donner and Marshall Perlin, which handled key cases of the McCarthy era, including the Rosenbergs’ final, failed appeal. But it was in the defense of civil rights groups and local desegregation campaigns–SCLC, Freedom Summer, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party–that Kinoy helped shape a revolution. In 1966 he helped found the Center for Constitutional Rights, which carries on his fight. In 1972, in a case he argued involving wiretapping of Michigan radicals, a unanimous Supreme Court rejected the Nixon Justice Department’s claim that the President holds “inherent power” to disregard the Constitution in defense of national security. The ruling came down a day after the 1972 Watergate break-in; without Kinoy’s victory the Watergate prosecutions might never have happened. Today, the Nixon apparatchik who crafted the President’s case is Chief Justice, and claims of “inherent power” are again on the rise. Arthur Kinoy’s life reminds us that “the abandonment of constitutional government” must never be “fought solely within the confines of the courtroom.”


The third in a series of public debates between The Nation and The Economist will be held on Wednesday, October 8, in Washington. Thanks to a Nation/Economist/Washington Post Online collaboration, you can catch a live webcast of the event from 7:30-9 pm EST. On October 7, The Nation‘s William Greider will face The Economist‘s Clive Crook in an online pre-debate debate. For both events: The pre-debate debate will be archived.