The race to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat is on; Geithner is under the gun; The Nation‘s revered puzzle setter retires.



After sixty-two years as The Nation‘s British-style cryptic crossword puzzle setter,

Frank W. Lewis

has decided to hang up his pencil and T-square and retire. Our December 21/28 issue will mark the last of his original submissions. His puzzles have infuriated, thrilled and satisfied generations of Nation puzzlers, and he will be sorely missed.

Frank’s fans will remember that he first encountered cryptic crosswords in England as a young cryptanalyst cracking codes for the OSS during World War II (for which he was awarded two civilian medals of honor). And they’ll recall that Frank won a contest in which Nation readers voted him in as our puzzle setter, in 1947. And who can forget the mayhem that ensued once, when we printed the wrong puzzle grid? Our switchboard lit up, and we had to set up a special desk to field the calls and mail out new grids to irate puzzlers. There was mayhem more recently when Frank’s puzzle briefly went biweekly. What an uproar! The weekly puzzle was quickly reinstated.

Leonard Bernstein


Kurt Vonnegut


Katha Pollitt

have been among his most enthusiastic admirers. Frank’s puzzles used to arrive at the Nation office in fat air-mail packets from his home in the Caribbean and, as the technology changed, by fax, disk and finally by e-mail.

For the next six months, while we search for a new puzzle setter, we will be running Frank W. Lewis classic puzzles from past issues on the puzzle page. Please watch the magazine for details on our open search for a new puzzler (you’ll find more at And please watch these pages for an upcoming recap of Frank’s unparalleled Nation career.


When Treasury Secretary

Tim Geithner

was riding high, in the first months of 2009, Oregon Congressman

Peter DeFazio

was like the kid who noted that the emperor had no clothes. DeFazio, an old-school populist Democrat, warned that Geithner and White House economic council director

Larry Summers

were paying too much attention to Wall Street and too little to Main Street. DeFazio even cast a vote against the economic stimulus package; he said it spent too much on tax cuts for the comfortable, too little on job creation. Now that America has a double-digit unemployment rate for the first time in a quarter-century, it’s looking like Geithner and Summers were wrong and DeFazio was right. So the Congressman is upping the ante, responding to questions about how to right the economy, by saying, “We may have to sacrifice just two more jobs to get millions back for Americans.”

DeFazio has emerged as the most outspoken progressive critic of Geithner and his compatriots, bluntly arguing that President Obama is “being failed by his economic team. Their total orientation is Wall Street, not Main Street, not real jobs.” That puts the Congressman in sync with the American people, 90 percent of whom say–according to polling data shared with the

House Democratic Caucus

in mid-November–that the government response to the recession has aided bankers and brokers instead of helping real folks get jobs.

Unfortunately, other Democrats have been slower than DeFazio when it comes to making the break with Geithner. That’s a mistake, as it allows conservative Republicans to play populist, as Texas Congressman

Kevin Brady

did when he told Geithner at a Joint Economic Committee hearing, “The public has lost all confidence in your ability to do the job, and it is reflecting on your president.”

Any attempt by Congressional Democrats to defend Geithner (or Summers, for that matter) puts them in a position of defending misguided policies and inept insiders. Instead of making excuses for Geithner, Congressional Democrats should recognize that DeFazio is on target when he says it is absurd for Obama to have a treasury secretary whose orientation “has not been other than Wall Street, and will not be other than Wall Street.”   JOHN NICHOLS


Ted Kennedy

, the late liberal lion of the Senate, would have been delighted by the race to fill his seat. The Democrats competing in the December 8 special primary election are working overtime to grab the Kennedy mantle. Congressman

Mike Capuano

is airing ads that recall how he and Kennedy voted against authorizing President George W. Bush to attack Iraq because Bush did not have answers to basic questions about the mission. “Now,” continues Capuano, “there’s a call for more troops in Afghanistan. But the questions remain: What’s our mission? How do we define success? And what’s our exit strategy? Without the right answers to those questions, I will never vote to send more of our sons and daughters to war. Never!” That tough stance has won Capuano support from antiwar groups such as

Progressive Democrats of America

, and his populist economic positions have won him a good deal of labor backing.

But Massachusetts Attorney General

Martha Coakley

, the other front-runner in the race, has refused to cede much space on the left to Capuano or the other two contenders, Boston Celtics managing partner

Stephen Pagliuca


Alan Khazei

, founder of an AmeriCorps organization called City Year.

Highlighting her wrangling with big banks, Coakley candidly declares that Wall Streeters “wrecked our economy.” And she ably distinguished herself from the field by quickly and aggressively decrying the decision of House leaders to allow a particular amendment to the healthcare reform legislation that severely limited access to reproductive health services. Identifying the move as an unacceptable assault on women’s rights, she said, “The inclusion of the Stupak-Pitts amendment violates the very intent of healthcare reform, which is meant to guarantee quality, affordable healthcare coverage for everyone.” Capuano scrambled to agree, but Coakley carried the day on an issue Kennedy once led.

Bottom line: no one thought it would be easy to replace the late senator. But by making compelling cases to progressive voters, the leading candidates for his seat are reminding Massachusetts voters that Kennedy’s ideals can, and in all likelihood will, live on in the Senate.   JOHN NICHOLS


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