For 145 years, these core principles have informed and animated The Nation‘s thinking and work: passionate support for civil rights and civil liberties, opposition to corruption and abuse of power, a belief in non-military solutions to conflict, and a commitment to strengthening our democracy. But that hasn’t stopped spirited–often fractious–disagreements, divisions and debates from breaking out in our big tent community of liberals, radicals, progressives, new left, old left, new old left–even conservatives with a conscience.
There’s great value (and fun) in providing a forum for a broad spectrum of left/progressive views and engaging in vigorous debate. But these are times which also test our willingness to work together towards larger goals, even if we don’t agree on everything or how to get there in the short-term.
This next year, and moving forward, will demand that we work together–either side-by-side or in some kind of meaningful coalition–to create a more fair and just and peaceful world. How do radicals and pragmatists work in constructive ways that don’t lead to anger, despair, or breakdown over an array of issues? How do we navigate between radical visions and pragmatic possibilities?
In his rollicking memoir A Matter of Opinion, publisher emeritus and former editor of The Nation, Victor Navasky, describes the struggle within the magazine to respect and articulate conflicting views during its long and storied history. In a fascinating passage, he describes splits among The Nation‘s editors, writers, and contributors over issues like intervention in Haiti, the war in Bosnia, and President Clinton’s healthcare proposal. Victor recalls how no one felt Clinton’s proposal was adequate, but half the staff supported it as a step towards universal healthcare, while the other half felt it undermined that goal.
"Rather than march in lockstep, our contributors and staffers have disagreed, argued, feuded, and debated, among themselves and in our pages, on matters of principle, practicality, politics, policy, and morality," Victor writes.
In some ways, history now repeats itself as we encounter similar divisions among our staffers, editors, and contributors over the current healthcare legislation–though as of this moment, I’d wager a lot that a majority supports passing the bill as a step towards broader reform.
Anyone who believes the progressive left has ever been a monolith is, well, clueless! And just as progressives around the country are finding their footing in the Obama Era, so too are the editors, thinkers, activists, and contributors that make up The Nation community. It’s a community that now extends well beyond the magazine, with a vibrant web presence that leads people to groups and ideas and opportunities for action. It also includes our Nation Associates, and over 70 discussion groups in cities and towns across America, including Madison, WI; Grand Ledge, MI; Atlanta, GA; Boulder, CO; Burlington, VT; Wheeling, WV; and Albuquerque, NM.
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From a political and organizing perspective, the Bush years were fairly simple–though grim–for progressives. In essence, we were united in our opposition to the horrors, abuses and destructive policies of an Administration which we recognized as a threat to the very fabric of our democracy. But a defensive crouch is not a good or healthy place to be. Our work is more complex now, but the possibilities are also more hopeful. We’re entering a year which will demand navigating an even more challenging terrain–in many ways the first year of the Obama presidency was less complicated than the coming year will be.
Obama’s candidacy and election galvanized so much hope. Now we confront our very real disappointments, and also the very real limitations to what can be accomplished in our deeply flawed democracy. There is a sense now of a hard, slow grind, and that tends to wear people down.
Yes, there are sweet victories we have won, but what seems clearer is that one election isn’t going to change the order of things, and although the country may have rejected conservatism in the 2008 election, it has yet to fully embrace progressivism. Achieving that goal will require more than one election, and more innovative, nimble, and creative thinking, organizing and activism. We will have to find ways to compromise that do not deny further opportunities for progressive change, but serve as a foundation we can build on.
We also make a mistake when we attribute our successes and failures to the strengths and weaknesses of President Obama. As Mark Schmitt argues in The American Prospect, "Just as [Obama’s] campaign was built on a base of organizing, online activism, and civic engagement that preceded him, so the success of his presidency and this Congress will depend on the strength of the progressive infrastructure. If progressives don’t support these structures for policy development and advocacy, further failure will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the fault will lie not in our star but in ourselves."
In the year ahead, The Nation will continue to expose, propose, investigate and push not-ready-for primetime propositions and ideas into the national (and international) conversation, debates, and thinking. We will invest in the kind of reporting that is being lost in much of journalism–quality work that serves as a watchdog against corruption and concentrated power. In 2009, Jeremy Scahill–building on his extraordinary reporting on private contractors over the last years–revealed how Blackwater is working in Pakistan for the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command. Aram Roston exposed the routine bribing of the Taliban by contractors seeking safe passage of logistical supplies for our troops, which has led to a Congressional investigation. We will also publish articles that serve to provoke and entertain–always challenging the assumptions of the national political conversation and the mainstream media.
This is also the year when The Nation will "go deep"–to think more radically about structural changes in our politics, society, and economy. One needs only to look at the healthcare debate, cap and trade, or any other reform effort to see the corrosiveness of money in our politics, and the anti-democratic nature of institutions like the Senate where one egomaniacal legislator can thwart the will of the people. Some of these issues aren’t sexy, but they are vital to our forming a more perfect union, and carrying out a democratic revolution that shifts the balance of power.
Critique is something we must do, it is part of our editorial DNA. But I believe now is a time for more annunciation, less denunciation.
We will aim to have an affirmative idea in every issue of the magazine–one proposal or effort that attempts to shed light on the path ahead. I believe in avoiding the betrayal sweepstakes which promotes disillusionment and despair, and furthers what our adversaries seek: our disempowerment. We can’t afford that. These are times to avoid falling into either of two extremes–reflexively defensive or reflexively critical. Only through being evolutionary will we succeed in being revolutionary.
Nobel laureate and poet Seamus Heaney said, "Hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well, but something rooted in the conviction that there is good worth working for." Let’s come together in 2010 and work for good.