The Corner

New York Review of Lefties

A Martian seeking to understand current U.S. intellectual life might pick up

a copy of The New York Review of Books under the illusion that it offers a

wide-ranging survey of the literary scene by talented writers with a good

range of outlooks and opinions.

Well, let’s see. The current (11/4/04) issue of NYRB includes a round-up of

views on the coming election from the magazine’s contributors. You can get

the flavor of the thing from the following quotes. I have included all the

contributors whose views appear in this symposium.

—K. Anthony Appiah: “In this President, then, we have a self-described

’uniter’ who has nominated a succession of right-wing ideologues to the

federal bench; a man who has invoked his commitment to ‘fairness’ as he

continues to transfer the cost of governance to people further down the

income scale…”

—Russell Baker: “Upon entering the White House he [i.e. GWB] immediately

started to govern from the ideological right, and not the smiling Reagan

right of the 1980s, but the hard, hard right which had spent generations

hating everything governmental that could be called ‘progressive,’ including

Theodore Roosevelt, who had afflicted Republicans with that abominable word

for the past hundred years…”

—Ian Buruma: “The question is whether the US will be a better place after

years of fear-mongering, military abuse, erosion of civil liberties, and a

constant stream of political propaganda that distorts America’s proudest


—Mark Danner: “It is no surprise that the fundamentalist George Bush

responded to the cataclysm of September 11 by rallying Americans to a threat

he found in the realm not of politics or strategy but of metaphysics…”

—Ronald Dworkin: “America is very lucky to have survived one Bush

administration without a single new Supreme Court appointment, but a second

term without more than one new appointment seems unlikely…”

—Michael Ignatieff: “Kerry has begun to win some support simply by

insisting on the grimness of the facts [i.e. about Iraq] and by pointing out

that Bush and Cheney’s optimism borders on the delusional…”

—Anthony Lewis: “[S]ince September 11, 2001, President Bush and his

administration have made a mockery of the American commitment to law. Using

the threat of terrorism as a reason, they have overridden constitutional

rights and treaties to take harsh, punitive action against hundreds of


—Norman Mailer: “The sorriest thing to be said about the US, as we sidle

up to fascism (which can become our fate is we plunge into a major

depression, or suffer a set of dirty-bomb catastrophes), is that we expect

disasters. We await them. We have become a guilty nation…”

—Edmund S. Morgan: “We cannot now escape credit for what our government

has so shamefully done. We began as a people with ‘a decent respect for the

opinions of mankind,’ and we won admiration for it. We have now lost the

good opinion of mankind and with it the sefl-respect of decent Americans…”

—Thomas Powers: “I do not think that voters on election day will forget

everything else [i.e. but Iraq] — the failure to restore lost jobs, a

ballooning of the national debt that threatens Social Security, the watering

down or outright repeal of regulations on business and the environment, the

failure to fund the No Child Left Behind Act, the spreading loss of health

benefits for ordinary Americans, above all [sic] the bluder of the

unnecessary war…”

—Alan Ryan: “…the election is first about bringing the Iraq folly to

an end, second about reversing the erosion of civil liberties, and third

about restoring respect for intelligence in the formulation and

implementation of policy. Underpinning all this, it would help to have a

president who could tell the truth — and who could distinguish it from


—Brian Urquart: “[T]he ideology of the George W. Bush administration is

basically unilateralist, exceptionalist, and anti-internationalist. Its

worldview first manifested itself in the rejection of important

international agreements like the anti-ballistic missile and nuclear test

ban treaties, to Kyoto Protocol on global warming, proposed conventions on

chemical warfare and the limitation of small arms, and the recently

established International Criminal Court…”

—Steven Weinberg: “President Bush’s re-election would be disastrous in

another respect. The present Supreme Court has attacked the constitutional

powers of Congress, striking down legislation that would protect individuals

against unconstitutional state action. The vacancies on the Court that are

likely to open soon create an opportunity to reverse these decisions. Four

more years of a Bush administration will tip the balance of the Court toward

extremist justices like Antonin SAcalia and Clarence Thomas…”

—Garry Wills: “[A] vote for Republicans is a vote for Halliburton and

contractors in the oil world, for a Rumsfeld policy of destroying the

military, for a Cheny vision of unilateral action in a world of nations

dismissed as cowards or fools, for an economy based on tax cuts, deficits,

and resistance to social programs…”

Now, there is nothing wrong with being a magazine of the foam-flecked Left.

There is not even anything much wrong with being a magazine of the

foam-flecked Left under a title that gives no clue about your political

orientation. (“National Review” is, after all, from the point of view of

our Martian visitor, not very informative in this respect.) As a life-long

lover of books and writing, though, I do take mild umbrage at a lefty

political rag traveling under the title “New York Review of Books” — a

title that suggests something wider than a solid block of rants against the

wickedness of the current administration.

May I suggest that NYRB considers re-titling itself to something more

appropriate? How about: “New York Review of the Opinions of Burned-Out Old

Stalinists, Aging Hippies Who Just Can’t Get Over Vietnam, Affirmative

Action Academic Hires, Alcoholic Novelists Who Haven’t Had a Decent Plot

Idea Since 1962, and Retired UN Bureacrats”? Just a suggestion.