Okay, I’ll take up Jonah’s challenge and defend Marty Peretz. A very long time ago, when I was quite young, Barbara and I were living in Rome, and Marty, who had just bought TNR, came through town and invited me and Claire Sterling to write for him. After several months of writing jointly signed articles with me, Claire got a terrific offer from Reader’s Digest, which left me TNR’s Rome Correspondent. Although the pay was atrocious, I didn’t much care. It didn’t cost much to live in Rome, especially in our fifth-floor unheated cold water walkup in a 16th century tenement next to the prison. I learned a lot, and since Walter Lippmann had been my boyhood hero, writing for TNR was a dream come true. I wrote many controversial stories, especially about the Communist Party and the Red Brigades, and TNR backed me up. Even when CIA started spreading disinformation about me after I wrote that the Red Brigades were getting support from the Soviet bloc (the Agency long denied it), Marty never ran. He was not only smart, but brave.
TNR was always schizophrenic and wonderfully unpredictable. While it declared itself to be a publication of the Left, for a long time it stayed faithful to the old fashioned anti-Communist, pro-union liberalism of the likes of Moynihan and Scoop Jackson. I continued to write for Marty for several years. Along with Norman Podhoretz and Bob Bartley, he is one of the three editors who gave me the chance to publish my work. So I’m indebted to him.
I find it risible to suggest that he’s a racist. His remarks about Mexicans — overachievers here, underachievers at home — are part of a very old pattern, whereby immigrants rapidly “become Americans.” Most of the great observers of America have raised this matter, which remains somewhat mysterious (see Tocqueville, who marvels at how rapidly the process occurs, for example). The attacks say more about the pernicious, stifling political correctness with which so many intellectuals are seized, than about Marty.
TNR over the years has been one of the most interesting and stimulating American publications. It has had its bad moments, like any other publication, but it has had more than its fair share of brilliance and elegance. Rare, indeed, and a great deal of its brilliance and elegance is due to Marty.