The New Republican: Where do we go from here?

What kinds of compromises should liberalism make? Must advocates of domestic reform and liberty join foces with foreign entities that oppose those things, simply because they see "the Government" - our government - as a common enemy?

Harking back to the days of the Americans for Democratic Action (renamed from the Union for Democratic action) Peter Beinart's very fine article in the December 13, 2004 print issue of The New Republic provides a postmortem for the Kerry candidacy and a sobering assessment of American liberalism's future. Quoting ADA member Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (who attended the seminal 1947 Willard Hotel conference to "save American liberalism"):
Free society and totalitarianism today struggle for the minds and hearts of men. ... If we believe in free society hard enough to keep on fighting for it, we are pledged to a permanent crisis which will test the moral, political and very possibly the military strength of each side. A "permanent" crisis? Well, a generation or two anyway, permanent in one's own lifetime."

Beinart contrasts these words from The Vital Center with the ideology of today's MoveOn: "Like the [soft liberals] of the early cold war, MoveOn sees threats to liberalism only on the right. And thus, it makes common cause with the most deeply illiberal elements on the international left."

He also makes the important point - again drawing from the lessons of the Cold War - that "while in a narrow sense the struggle against totalitarianism may divert resources from domestic causes, it also provides a powerful rationale for a more just society at home. During the early cold war, liberals repeatedly argued that the denial of African American civil rights undermined America's anti-communist efforts in the Third World. This linkage between freedom at home and freedom abroad was particularly important in the debate over civil liberties."

The cold-war-era debate lies at the root of the split between the very different liberalisms of TNR and The Nation: following the 1948 defeat of the leftist (and Communist sympathizer) Henry Wallace, "The New Republic broke with Wallace, its former editor."

Michael J. Totten covers this article, citing a letter published in Andrew Sullivan and advising today's liberals to take a strong stand against terrorism and fascism.

Every conflict involves compromises. In prosecuting the war on terrorism, for example, our Government must sometimes make pacts with such unsavory players as Pakistan, Syria, and even France. And on the home front, we must sometimes strike deals with parties we don't especially care for, in order to obtain a greater benefit to our cause.

Even magazine editors must make such trade-offs. Back in May 2000, Heather A. Findlay, editor-in-chief of Girlfriends, announced to her readers: "In the eyes of some, Girlfriends sold its soul. Last year, we sold advertising space for the first time to a tobacco company ..." Findlay, who had "watched five queer publications go out of business just since January", had to make a difficult decision between a "pure" magazine and one that could pay its bills; she chose the latter. I can't fault her for that.

The New Republic, too, has made some interesting choices in the advertising it hosts. For some months now, they've been hosting an occasional feature called "TNR/ON", administered by one Joan Daly and billed as a "symposium on public policy". (For you non-classicists, "symposium" is a Greco-Latin word meaning "advertising supplement".) Past installments of TNR/ON have featured analyses on "America's Energy Crisis" (brought to you by the Nuclear Energy Institute) and "Securing the Nation's Energy Supply" (courtesy of the American Gas Association).

But by far the most important topic of debate in these forums is Saudi Arabia - sponsored, the magazine drolly informs us, by "The People of Saudi Arabia". And so it happens that you cannot read Peter Beinart's article without flipping past a four-page special on "The Future of the U.S. - Saudi Partnership" ... sponsored by, well, you know who. For good measure, there's also a two-page testament to that same Kingdom's "Ongoing Progress, Enduring Change" on pages 20 and 21.

Now the case of TNR advertising for Saudi Arabia is not like the case of Girlfriends advertising for RJ Reynolds. It is more like Girlfriends carrying an ad for the Family Research Council. In fact, it is worse than that, because the "panel" featured in the Saudis' propaganda piece includes two of TNR's most distinguished editors, Lawrence Kaplan and Leon Wieseltier.

There is something viscerally repulsive about the spectacle of Jewish intellectuals whoring themselves for the Saudi princes. There is something revolting about a liberal, Washington-based magazine playing host to representatives of the same regime that furnished the West with Osama bin Laden and the majority of his psychopathic murderers.

To be sure, Wieseltier poses some tough challenges, both to the Saudi regime and to his fellow liberals: "I think that the President has got it essentially right when he believes that freedom is not just a matter of American morality, but also a matter of American security. ... I warn you that when I hear phrases like 'Islamic liberalism' or 'Islamic democracy,' the adjective makes me nervous, because Islamic liberalism to me sounds like 'Islamic algebra' or 'Islamic physics'. There is no such thing. There is only physics. There is only algebra. There is only democracy."

Even in this vile setting, Wieseltier manages to shine. But of course it is the voice of "realism" that must have the last word: "... that transformation is occurring rather gradually, but that it need occur; and finally, that America's role in this process, like it or not, will be a minimal one."

At the risk of stating the obvious, let me state the obvious.

Wieseltier, Kaplan, Lippman and the others have obviously managed to retain some of their integrity here, as the foregoing Wieseltier quotes (and others) abundantly demonstrate. But it is impossible to know what they did not say, or could not say, or said without being quoted in the "edited transcript" published in the pages of The New Republic. It is similarly impossible to know what effect those Saudi dollars are having on the content of the magazine.

We do know that the Saudi regime is actively involved in a propaganda campaign directed at the West, and specifically at the United States. As reported earlier at Dreams Into Lightning, the Saudi regime has employed a public relations firm called Qorvis - which is now under FBI scrutiny - to burnish its image in the US.

The indispensable Little Green Footballs covered Qorvis back in 2002, here, and here in 2003. And finally, Judith's post at Kesher Talk provides this interesting little detail about one Qorvis contract:
Qorvis' representation agreement that it filed with Ambassador Prince Bandar has an interesting wrinkle. The firm agrees to tell the Saudis about any foreign client that approaches it for representation during the contract period. QC also agrees that for two years following termination of the Arab account, QC "will not accept any engagement with any client that would be deemed adverse to the interests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

I don't know, and I don't really care, which PR firm abetted the Saudis in their usurpation of the once hallowed pages of The New Republic. Once, strong liberals might have had in TNR a forum to challenge - rightly or wrongly - some of the Bush administration's more questionable policies, such as its accommodationist stance toward Saudi Arabia. But not now.

I began writing The New Republican because I saw that my favorite liberal magazine, like American liberalism itself, was heading down the wrong track. Now, I fear, that process is irreversible. I've just received a notice in the mail that my subscription to TNR is about to run out; I will let it. The New Republic has nothing more to say to me, and I have nothing more to say to them. This will be the last installment of The New Republican.

"The New Republican" - complete series