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In Defense of Marty Peretz

For many years, especially in the 80’s, the magazine functioned as the more realistic and hard-edged liberal alternative to the stale liberalism of the wartime Popular Front, and later, the new anti-anti-Communism of the bulk of the liberal movement during the Vietnam War and after.  In the conflict at home over Reagan policy in Central America, Peretz editorially supported the Nicaraguan contras, a group for whom most liberals had nothing but hate and disdain. He did this against the wishes of his own chosen editors, who openly published a letter opposed to the magazine’s editorial policy. And Peretz continued to run articles fiercely critical of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas, from writers like Robert Leiken and myself. Indeed, Peretz and TNR sent me twice to Nicaragua to report on events during the Sandinistas’ years of power. From today’s perspective, Peretz says in retrospect, the fight of those years was more about a conflict between Nicaraguan elites for power, rather than one of the forces of freedom fighting against those of tyranny.

But on domestic issues, the magazine continued to hold firm to the old paradigm of Progressivism, in which it got started when Herbert Croly founded the journal in the days of TR and Woodrow Wilson. Its writers and editors followed the usual Progressive era views, whose adherents thought that the “administrative, bureaucratic state,” as writer Walter Russell Mead defines it, can still be handled via regulatory measures. Hence their defense of and support of Obama Care, which outgoing editor Franklin Foer mentioned as one of the magazine’s most important efforts. As Mead writes so powerfully, “if our society is going to develop we have to move beyond the ideas and institutions of twentieth century progressivism.” Its promises have dissolved, and its “premises no longer hold.” This goes against the grains of many of our best intellectuals, Mead claims, an observation justified by reading many of TNR’s own writers and editors when they write about domestic issues.

Despite this major problem that has always plagued TNR, for years it was a hard edged critic of the official American liberalism, particularly in the realm of foreign policy.  It stood not only for anti-Communism, but for a strong national defense, against appeasement of tyrannies at a time when many of our Presidents sought to placate or appease them in the hopes that it would lead to peace. Most important of all, TNR was the strongest media voice in the nation that stood foursquare in defense of Israel.  And all of this was due to the influence and guidance of Marty Peretz, who always understood – and does so especially at present – that the strength of Israel was paramount to the ability of the West to defeat our latest enemy, the forces of radical Islam. Peretz realizes that Israel’s fight is not that nation’s alone; rather, it is the fight of the Western powers as a whole.

And it is this stance, we must understand, that has led to Peretz having so many enemies. His willingness to stand up and buck official liberalism in its hostility to Israel and the view of most realists and liberals that peace does not exist in the Middle East because of Israel’s so-called self-defeating policies, has meant that those who believe in this fairy tale have total hatred for Peretz, and instead of wishing him well in his endeavors, are out to destroy him.

The New York Magazine article was part of this hit-job, in which the author allowed Peretz’s ex-wife Anne, from whom Peretz obtained a bitter divorce a few years ago, to largely frame the personal narrative of the article, in which readers learn of Peretz’s “anger” that supposedly was “only partly diminished by years of therapy.” His defense of Israel is questioned by having Wallce-Wells treat the Palestinians as making “halting steps to modernization,” while Israel he claims has “pivoted to the right.” Clearly, Wallace-Wells is a sympathizer with Peter Beinart’s school of realism in which Beinart and others argue that Israel has betrayed them and liberalism, and might no longer be worthy of the support they once gave the Jewish State unless it allows them to force concessions upon Israel that a majority of its citizens oppose.

I happened to be leaving a forum with Peretz at which he spoke and as we exited the building, Peter Beinart was coming in. The two passed each other by with hardly a word of response from Beinart, although Peretz said hello. It was pretty clear that Beinart now felt personally hostile to Peretz.  And this is from a man whom Peretz made editor of the magazine and who stood at its helm for many years. Yet Wallace-Wells only lets his readers know that if people dislike Peretz and his politics, it is all Peretz’s fault—just like the absence of real peace in the Middle East is all Israel’s fault.

We learn that Peretz “is grumpy about modernity,” that James Fallows – “the most reasonable man in American letters,” Wallace-Wells writes – concludes that “Peretz is a bigot.” How could he not be, since Fallows said it, and he is, of course, reasonable. Wallace-Wells does not tell his readers that Fallows is well known for long holding an anti-Israel position.  This was made clear a few years ago by Gabriel Schoenfeld.