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Jewish World Review May 4, 2001/ 11 Iyar, 5761


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The funny papers -- THERE'S REASON to believe that The Nation, although not in my lifetime, was once taken seriously. Any political magazine that's survived since 1865 has been through its intellectual peaks and valleys. The current incarnation, over which presides the wealthy Katrina vanden Heuvel, (a self-proclaimed resident of Harlem, no less; at least since that neighborhood's boundaries now extend down to W. 106th St.), is The New York Times as written by a squad of Power Rangers.

The weekly's May 14 editorial, "The Worst 100 Days," crosses the line of hyperbole and becomes pure fiction. And so the reader is told that while Bush campaigned by "claiming to want more or less the same things Al Gore wanted," he's now "a hard-edged, rather maladroit right-winger" whose "style of governing...most resembles the notorious theft in the Florida recount operation."

The Nation noisily asserts that "Bush the Younger" is led by the nose by a Cabinet "populated by elder statesmen and hacks" from the Nixon/Ford and Reagan/Bush administrations, people who are stuck in a "time warp." How startling to encounter ageism in a "progressive" magazine, not to mention the convenient omission that Bush's administration is more diverse than any in history, although the women and minorities currently in power were chosen on the basis of merit, rather than to fulfill a Clintonian quota. It's not likely that Rod Paige, Karen Hughes, Condoleezza Rice or Mel Martinez reads The Nation, or would pay attention if they did, but the insult still stands.

It's this magazine that's stuck in a time warp. For example, the editors believe that the ragtag group of protesters in Quebec City is the wave of the future, rather than a loose coalition of adolescent thrillseekers, thugs sponsored by labor unions and old hippies who believe that a whiff of tear gas might revive their memories of more meaningful demonstrations in the 1960s. The Nation's staff doesn't seem to like the United States very much, judging by its latest editorial.

"Bush foreign policy-the China incident aside-looks like a smashmouth approach to global relations. We're the big guys. We get to say what goes. Kyoto and global warming-forget about it. Russia and China-in your face. South Korea's hopeful reach for detente with the North is brushed aside."

Perhaps the wealthy backers of The Nation might consider moving its operations to Beijing, where a more simpatico government would allow it to flourish and wouldn't be in its face.

"The Worst 100 Days" concludes with a paragraph that resembles the first draft of a misguided if well-intentioned college student's submission to the campus paper. "The Bush II years, in sum, promise nasty ideological warfare on virtually every front that matters-a struggle at least as serious as the Reagan era's and maybe more, given the decayed state of representative democracy. The awkward new President's boldness is encouraged, we observe, by the lame responses of the Democratic opposition. If Democrats don't make the full-throated fight now, when may we expect them to do so? If Democrats remain so timid, popular agitation must build fires under them, too. The political imperative is not exactly news but requires repeating: Do not wait for Washington to resolve these great issues. March on it. Bang on it."

Bang on what? A gong? A bong? A thong? Even Dr. Seuss, no doubt a devotee of The Nation many years ago, would have difficulty figuring out what exactly vanden Heuvel, a dilettante every bit as naive and irritating as Barbra Streisand, is trying to say.

SOLIDARITY (at Least Until I Graduate)
Top honors for the most repulsive online essay in the past week go to Matthew Daniels, a Harvard senior who posted a self-aggrandizing dispatch for The New Republic on April 24 about a campus sit-in in support of the university's nonacademic employees. Daniels, a member of Harvard's Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM), claims the ostensible reason for his group's action is "to secure, once and for all, a living wage for Harvard's workers. Many of the employees who serve food, clean bathrooms, and stand guard at the world's richest university work 80 or more hours a week but struggle to support their families."

Daniels' me-me-me article describes the comfort he and his compatriots have received from celebrities (Matt Damon! Ben Affleck! Teddy Kennedy!), and the media campaign they've orchestrated from within occupied Mass. Hall, but never does he mention the name of one of the people whose wages the PSLM is cutting classes to raise. I find the fleeting alliance between pampered students and laborers dodgy at best, but for the sake of accuracy it'd be interesting to read actual anecdotes, or comments, from the janitors and cooks instead of about the sacrifices the PSLM is making to save the world.

But no. Daniels writes about the yoga sessions that "relieve [the] stiff backs" of the students; about the realization that "travel Scrabble" wasn't enough to counter the boredom of their sit-in; about the food sent in from sympathizers; and about the joy of passing around a copy of Sisterhood Is Powerful and singing along with golden oldies like "If I Had a Hammer."

It gets worse. Daniels, who in 10 years will probably be a trial lawyer or commodities trader, writes: "Survival assured, a more pressing long-term concern now is classwork. Academic responsibilities weigh heavier on some than others, but we are, after all, students. I'll have to reschedule my seminar presentation from this Wednesday to, well, who knows. The breadth of faculty support has helped alleviate the burden. My thesis advisor showed up to picket and to say, undoubtedly for the first time, he was proud of me."

I'm certain the alleged 80-hour-a-week workers are proud as well. But how would the reader know? Because it doesn't occur to Daniels to put a human face on any of these allegedly aggrieved people-the working class is an abstract concept to brats like him-we have no idea if the security guards, etc., are legitimately mistreated or, more likely, just happy to have a job.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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