Victor Navasky on William F. Buckley, John Nichols on Dennis Kucinich, Amy Traub on America’s mayors.



In the mid-1990s, when I asked John O’Sullivan, who had replaced

William F. Buckley Jr.

as editor in chief of National Review, about Buckley’s relationship to the magazine he had founded, O’Sullivan said, “It’s simple. I run the magazine on a day-to-day basis. I make all the decisions except when he wants to make one.” Buckley, who died February 27, first came to national attention as the scourge of his alma mater (God and Man at Yale), and for decades he postured and pummeled nonbelievers as the host of public television’s Firing Line. But it was as founder, editor and perpetrator of National Review, born in 1955, that he made his mark.

Buckley’s stated hope for his magazine was to do for conservatism what The New Republic and The Nation did for liberalism. And indeed, deftly dipping into the Elmer’s glue of cold war anti-Communism, his magazine pasted together such previously disparate strands of right-wing theology as free marketeerism, traditionalism, isolationism (in the form of anti-UN-ism) and libertarianism–all done in the name of now-forgotten “fusionism.” This may sound hopelessly antiquated, but the fact is that Buckley’s magazine begat the nomination of

Barry Goldwater

and gave birth to the conservative movement, Reaganism and, not to belabor the point, eventually–I would argue–the war in Iraq, to which even Buckley eventually took modest exception.

I recently confessed in the pages of Columbia Journalism Review (on the occasion of the publication of Buckley’s forty-ninth book,

Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription

) that in June 1988, with the permission of The Nation‘s literary editor, I asked

Robert Sherrill

if, in the course of his review of

John Judis

‘s biography of Buckley, he might remind our readers of all of the crude and cruel causes the by-then much-celebrated Buckley had endorsed early in his career.

At the time Sherrill said, “What I like about this assignment–it’s a good old-fashioned hatchet job.” On the occasion of Our Bill’s passing, let’s salute him as founder of a journal to whose politics we take exception and occasionally detest yet whose contribution to the national conversation we welcome. But for those who want the full story, we refer you to Sherrill’s “Squire Willie,” which appeared in this magazine on June 11, 1988.   VICTOR NAVASKY


Remember that heated moment in the primary debates when the candidates locked horns in contrasting their visions for urban America? When they argued over infrastructure and mass transit, stressed the importance of revitalizing depressed neighborhoods and lauded the relative energy efficiency of the urban life? Neither do I. This is a travesty. The candidates need to understand, as the New York Times recently editorialized, that “as important as rural problems are, they’re not nearly as big as the task of helping the nation’s struggling cities–where most Americans live or work…. Yet urban issues have gotten scant attention in this campaign.” So what would an actual urban debate sound like?


(, a joint video project of The Nation and the

Drum Major Institute for Public Policy

, set out to explore that question with the natural experts on urban politics–America’s mayors. From large and small cities, flourishing towns and struggling municipalities, a common urban narrative emerged.

“I hope when the presidential candidates talk about cities they stop thinking about us as basket cases and think instead of the potential of cities to turn this country around,” offered Mayor

R.T. Rybak

of Minneapolis. “We’re not looking for a handout,” Rochester Mayor

Bob Duffy

maintains, “but an investment that we can show a return with.” Instead, federal and state governments, eager to cut taxes, have passed on fewer resources than ever to cities, which are nonetheless expected to provide expanded levels of public service.

At times, Washington’s willful blindness to urban issues produces policies that not only neglect cities but actively undermine them. Baltimore Mayor

Sheila Dixon

cites the Tiahrt Amendment, an appropriations rider introduced by Representative

Todd Tiahrt

of Kansas, which limits cities’ ability to use gun-trace data to stop the proliferation of illegal guns. “We have wars here in our cities!” Dixon says. “We need tools in place that will assist our local police.”

Despite the lack of support from inside the Beltway, cities are moving ahead with their own agendas, often stepping into the vacuum left by federal negligence. “Most of the innovation around the nation is occurring in our cities,” Los Angeles Mayor

Antonio Villaraigosa

argues. Nowhere is this truer than in confronting global warming. In 2005, as the Kyoto Protocol went into effect in 141 countries but not in the United States, Seattle Mayor

Greg Nickels

launched the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, calling on cities to take action on their own to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

America, the mayors agree, is stuck without an urban agenda. “But,” says Atlanta Mayor

Shirley Franklin

, “I am looking forward to the election in ’08 to unstick us.” Her optimism is shared by most MayorTV participants. Let’s hope their confidence is not misplaced.   AMY TRAUB


On the seventy-fifth anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s first inauguration as President, the FDR campaign song, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” was played at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Cleveland. And members celebrated the March 4 Democratic primary victory of one of their own:

Dennis Kucinich

. This was not the Kucinich caricatured by the media as a quixotic presidential campaigner with flaky ideas and flakier supporters. This was the Congressman who has always opposed free-trade deals, fought big banks and corporations and preached that unnecessary wars divert money needed to rebuild America. This was the Congressman who swamped a primary foe with $500,000 and beat back daily attacks from the rabidly anti-Kucinich Cleveland Plain Dealer. Kucinich took all the hits in Cleveland that he had taken nationally during his presidential bid. But Ohio voters heard enough from him to cut through the blather about UFOs, Hollywood and his height. And they recognized that, even if Dennis is never going to be President, his voice–which has always owed more to the New Deal than the New Age–is needed on the national stage.    JOHN NICHOLS

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