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A Swan Song for the Old New Republic

But when it comes to the magazine’s politics, one cannot get much of any sense what it will stand for, if anything. The publication will remain, he says, a “journal of progressive values.” And that, in a nutshell, is precisely what I fear. As Walter Russell Mead has said in a series of columns at The American Interest, what he calls the old progressive “blue social model” is dead as a doornail. (Mead talks about this at AEI next week.) The current editor who will oversee the magazine on a day-to-day basis, Richard Just, is a good man. He too talks about producing a grand new “vision of magazine journalism,” and of hiring new writers and editors. But from his pen, also, one finds not a word about the political and intellectual vision the  magazine will have.

To find out what that might be, one must turn elsewhere, and the discouraging answer can be immediately found in a New York Times blog post. Hughes, the new owner and editor-in-chief, one learns, “helped to run the online organizing machine for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.” Let us, then, look no further. Just in time for the 2012 campaign, TNR will become the major cheerleader for Barack Obama, in what promises to be a close race against Mitt Romney, who will most likely be the Republican Party’s candidate.

Does anyone really think that Hughes will let his new magazine be anything but a vehicle for a second Obama administration? Yes, since Hughes is gay and a leader in the “fight for same-sex marriage,” as the Huffington Post reports, the magazine will undoubtedly pressure the president from his left to make the administration’s position more amenable to that of the magazine’s editors and writers. But on the issue of the nature of liberalism and social policy, on the major issues of foreign policy, I suspect its critical edge -- indicated most recently by the magazine running a piece by John McCain in favor of intervention by the U.S. in Syria -- is likely to disappear, out of fear that articles like that will only serve to hurt the president’s electoral campaign.

Yes, we can expect articles from the president’s left, like those by Michael Kazin against Republican business conservatism, or David Greenberg on why Obama should talk like the good left-liberal that he is and not pretend to be a centrist, or like the one by Jeffrey Rosen on how Obama should really fight for civil liberties. But don’t hold your breath to find some by Charles Krauthammer on the vacuous nature of contemporary liberalism, or Charles Murray on equality (the magazine, one must remember, raised a storm years ago by printing Murray’s piece on his early controversial book co-authored with Richard Hernstein, The Bell Curve). Will they ask  Mead, for example, to expand his blue social model blogs into a major article, something the old TNR would have done in a flash?

So, I am not optimistic about the fate of the new TNR. The last thing we need is a magazine slightly -- very slightly -- to the right of The Nation. Nor do we need another New Yorker, in which Hendrik Hertzberg’s predictable left-liberal views dominate the political commentary -- and, yes, he too came from TNR as an old editor -- and where its editor-in-chief David Remnick stands by the likes of Seymour Hersh as a major investigative reporter, despite the devastating expose of him in the new Commentary by a former TNR editor, James Kirchick. Indeed, if I were Hughes, Kirchick would be the first hire I would make and I would reinstate him as a top senior editor, since he is, in my estimate, perhaps our finest young journalist, whose output and quality make him second to none. Again, I do not hold my breath.

So, this is a swan song and sad goodbye to the old TNR. I wish the magazine well, and perhaps I will turn out to be very wrong. But as a natural pessimist, and for good reason, I only expect the worst.