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Lefty Purity For Thee…



What does Harper‘s publisher Rick MacArthur do when he’s not publishing poorly reasoned and anti-factual screeds about the perfidy of the Democrat Party? Why, bust unions of course:

MacArthur may have once defended U.A.W. as “the country’s best and traditionally most honest mass labor organization,” but he contested his staff’s right to unionize, contending that the literary editor and senior editors served as supervisors and hence failed to qualify for protection under the National Labor Relations Act. He hired veteran employment lawyer Bert Pogrebin to advocate on his behalf before the National Labor Relations Board, but the federal agency denied his appeal. The day before staffers held elections and formally joined UAW Local 2110 on Oct. 14, MacArthur wrote a letter assuring them the union would neither give them a voice in the selection of the next editor in chief—he believed Metcalf was angling for the position—nor “solve the financial problems of the magazine or get us more subscribers, newsstand buyers or advertisers.”

Added MacArthur, with a touch of irony: “It will, of course, be able to collect initiation fees and dues from you.”

In January 2011, the magazine laid off union instigator Metcalf and pro-union ally associate editor Theodore Ross, a move that the union interpreted as retaliation and that MacArthur defended as an effort to “cut expenses.”

Of course, one way you can ensure you have the money to pay anti-labor lawyers is to pay your interns a big fat goose egg to work full time in Manhattan.

While MacArthur’s magazine has been unreadable for a while, I was wondering if perhaps there was a commercial justification for what has been intellectually ruinous. Maybe there’s a large market out there that really wants to read the same terrible leftier-than-thou article with a nominally different byline about how Barack Obama betrayed his campaign promises by failing to unilaterally turn the American political economy into Denmark’s every month? Nope: in fact, their circulation is cratering. It’s really a shame what’s happened to what was not that long ago a terrific magazine, but at this point it’s probably never coming back.

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  • jim, some guy in iowa

    I read- hell, subscribed- to Harper’s through much of the 90s and up to, I think, 2002 or so- not long before Lapham retired. It was going bad by 2000- Lapham gave himself the middle of the magazine to go on and on about how Ralph Nader was performing the ultimate public service by running for President, and I remember thinking, “are you paying *any* attention to what’s behind George W Bush?” Then after W was elected they started running extremely stupid fantasies about assassinating him. Don’t think I’ve even looked at a copy in 10 years. It appears a lot of us have done that

    • Scott Lemieux

      When Lapham went from being the most slobbering Nader fanboy imaginable to trying to become the most strident anti-Bush critic out there, I tuned him out.

      • I mean, on one level that’s a sensible move. On the other hand, you’d expect the editor of a major magazine to understand the basics about how American politics work.

        • Scott Lemieux

          I mean, I would have no problem if there was some modesty attached to it — “I was wrong about Bush, he was really terrible.” But when you try to pretend that you knew it all along when you spent more than a year telling your audience that Bush was indistinguishable from a moderate Democrat, fuck off.

          • I know we’ve discussed this a million times here, but how liberals, myself included, managed to convince themselves that Bush wasn’t that bad in 2000, is a real mystery. I was one of them and I don’t even understand it. At least by 2004 I recognized my horrible error–and in New Mexico no less. Lapham doesn’t seem to have connected the dots.

            • postmodulator

              In fairness to us liberals, could anyone have believed that Bush would be as bad as he was? I figured he’d be bad, but not flirt-with-apocalypse bad. The only one who came pretty close was Will Ferrell’s rather astonishingly prescient sketch.

              Even the people who figured Cheney would be running the country, Cheney was a hard-right conservative but he was a competent enough technocrat as Bush’s SecDef. No one would’ve thought he was Darth Vader. (Full disclosure: my dad briefed him on Russian nukes in 1991 and was relatively impressed with him but fairly unimpressed with his staff.)

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                (raises hand)

                the only thing that surprised me was that OBL gave him a war to fight. The rest of it, though, no. Al Gore wasn’t the greatest candidate ever- but he was a good guy. There just wasn’t any comparison between him and Bush. None. I’m also surprised at how angry reliving this is making me right now, all these years later

                • postmodulator

                  Don’t get me wrong. I thought Bush would be bad. I voted for Gore, not Nader.

                  But in 2000 could you have convinced people that by 2004 American tourists in Europe would claim to be Canadian, out of shame?

                • I can’t imagine a situation that would force me to debase myself to that level. #remember1813 #canadaday

                • tsam

                  OBL wanted that war. It was a fantastic recruiting tool and eventually led to ISIS, which is any fanatical zealot’s wet dream.

                • Shakezula

                  I think part of it must depend on personal circumstances. If I align my chakras properly and think of kittens I can sort of understand why certain segments of the population, especially financially secure white heterosexual males, didn’t learn to fear and loathe anything with an (R) next to its name after a couple of years of Ronaldus Reaganus. They weren’t the ones being targeted by these assholes.

                  the only thing that surprised me was that OBL gave him a war to fight.

                  Why? That worked out brilliantly for him. It’s probably the only time Shrubya exceeded anyone’s expectations.

                  But in 2000 could you have convinced people that by 2004 American tourists in Europe would claim to be Canadian, out of shame?

                  I don’t know when it started, but saying you’re Canadian if asked/not wearing clothes that identified you as American was the State Department’s advice when I went to England in 85 or 86. Security (or at least harassment reduction) don’tcha know.

                • Matt McIrvin

                  US citizens claiming to be Canadian overseas so as not to be taken for jerky screaming right-wingers was definitely a thing long before 2000. Also, I recall Europeans making a point of guessing that someone was Canadian if they appeared to be from Anglophone North America, just because people from the US weren’t particularly offended if they were mistaken for Canadian, but Canadians definitely were if the reverse occurred.

                • Matt McIrvin

                  …I also recall talking to young English people in 1986 and surprising them with the information that the US was not unanimously in love with Ronald Reagan. They hadn’t seen anything to the contrary.

              • joel hanes

                could anyone have believed that Bush would be as bad as he was?

                Why, yes. Molly Ivins wrote Shrub just to warn us.

                Read it now and weep.

                • Malaclypse

                  Yep, that’s what I was about to say. God, I miss Molly.

              • Well, how could you (or anyone) have predicted a major terrorist attack and two wars of choice? Clearly Bush would never have been a great president, but without 9/11 and the two wars, would he have been as terrible as he ended up being? (For that matter, without 9/11 and the wars, would he even have been re-elected?) Even ignoring the loss of life in the wars themselves, a lot of what’s eroded the US’s standing in the world – creating the DHS, suspending Habeas Corpus, Guantanamo and the legitimization of torture, NSA wiretapping, drone warfare – is a direct outcome of 9/11.

                I think the biggest change that’s come over the political discourse since 2000 is the renewed understanding of how important it is to have the right person as president when things go pear-shaped. Bush may have seemed harmless, but in an emergency, harmless can be pretty damn harmful.

                • Barry_D

                  However, what was clear was that (a) Bush would preside over a GOP Congress, and (b) he’d push through massive right-wing sh*t.

                • LeeEsq

                  Iraq was a war of choice. Afghanistan wasn’t necessary from a defensive point of view but it might have been a political necessity. No politician is going to respond to a major terrorist attack by telling the citizens of their country that they analyzed the situation and decided the best thing to do was do nothing against the perpetrators and their enablers if they want to remain in office.

                • witlesschum

                  Yeah, this is the issue. The Bush Administration would have been horrible (remember rattling their sabre at the Chinese?) but 9/11 gave them the political space to amass a real body count and win a second term, much of which was thankfully checkmated by the Democratic congress after 2006.

              • Richard Hershberger

                I figured that the Bush administration would exist for the purpose of moving public funds into private hands. I was right about that, but wrong about how. I figured it would be good old-fashioned corrupt boondoggles. This is forgotten today, but resurrecting Reagan’s ICBM defense was a big campaign issue at the time. This would have been a perfect way to move those public funds: fantastically expensive, and no one would be surprised when nothing came of it.

                It turns out that I was thinking way too small. Starting a war with some randomly selected mid-size country, it turns out, is far more lucrative to the military industrial complex. I do recall with pleasure all the stories of small-time contractors with immaculate Republican politics schlepping out to Baghdad and coming away shocked and dismayed when they finally figured out that only the big dogs were getting any of the action.

              • I remember seeing, in early 2000, the video of him mocking Carla Faye Ticker and saying to myself that he was the worst piece of garbage in the shape of a human being that I had encountered in my lifetime in politics.

                • Ahuitzotl

                  ah, the pre-Cheney days

              • matt w

                Ferrell looks a lot more like Jeb! than W., doesn’t he?

              • Katya

                *Raises hand, too.*

                When my super-conservative grandmother told me she didn’t like Bush because he looked like a spoiled little boy, I knew the guy was trouble. No, I didn’t foresee that he would be given the opportunity to start two wars, but I think anyone paying attention could have seen that someone who mocked a death row inmate’s desire to live was a terrible person.

              • Halloween Jack

                There was also this astonishingly prescient bit from The Onion, which soon came in an annotated version.

                As for Bush v. Gore, I was never fooled by the former; after the GOP’s patently bullshit Contract onwith America and the revelation that some of the House reps going after Clinton were guilty of extramarital affairs themselves, I wouldn’t have trusted any of them further than I could throw them. The press managed to successfully tar Gore with the brush of guilt by association with Clinton, in particular using the lie of his claiming invention of the Internet as a riff on Clinton’s status as the Great Prevaricator. I think that in some of the cases the press’ willingness to spread Republican memes had to do with W’s successful manipulation of the press corps covering the election, sucking up to most of them with his cute nicknames while mercilessly cutting off anyone who asked the hard questions. (There was one woman making a documentary on his campaign who was left literally standing on the tarmac after W kicked her off the campaign plane.) They also probably overpromoted Bush and belittled Gore because they wanted a closer race; if that seems improbable, consider the outsized importance given to Mitt Romney doing well in one debate in a presidential campaign that was otherwise marked by mediocrity, if not indifference, on his part for the rest of it.

                Finally, I think that a lot of people simply got complacent due to the 90s being mostly peaceful (the wars in Kuwait, Somalia and the Balkans being eclipsed by what would follow in the next decade) and not being willing to give Gore credit for helping to reduce the federal budget to the point that there was actually a surplus, maybe the last one for the foreseeable future.

                • tsam

                  Yeah, the media was horrible to Gore. Gore didn’t help himself a whole lot, but they sure tried to do him like they did Dukakis. But I already hated Gore because of his fascist asshole (then) wife.

                  I mostly remember that after the election, there was a huge vote controversy in the state where his brother was the governor and the Sec of State was a crooked scumbag, and this this little shit had to fucking cheat to win.

                  I also remember thinking “Are we REALLY doing this? Are we really electing a guy who speaks like a stoned teenager and shows all the intellectual power of an infomercial pitch man? An obvious spoiled rotten bratty blue-blood kid?”

              • Bruce B.

                Avedon Carol did, and also how bad the wake of 9/11 would be and for how long. And Molly Ivins certainly tried to tell the rest of us how bad Bush was.

                • Davis X. Machina

                  Avdeon Carol will also tell you, as bad as Bush is, he wasn’t as bad as Obama.

            • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

              People really bel

              • Lee Rudolph

                …and the dragon?

                • Hogan

                  That story is apocryphal.

              • Matt McIrvin

                R.O.U.Ses? I don’t believe they exist.

            • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

              It’s almost been forgotten because so many things have surpassed it, but at the time a lot of my really smart friends believed the Iraq sanctions regime was the most evil thing possible in the world, and Gore deserved to be punished for it. That and the missile strike on Sudan seemed to be the main things souring folks on Clinton/ Gore. Plus Gore didn’t do a great job of giving people positive reasons to vote for him (whatever he may have promised, the only distinctive aspect of this campaign I remember is “lockbox” and Joe Lieberman).

              • LF

                Gore took a lot of shit over it, but the much-derided lockbox was a really good idea. Lieberman, not so much.

              • tsam

                My most memorable moment was Gore/Holy Joe concern trolling all the sex and violence in movies and TV shortly after having a big fundraiser with all those Hollywood sleazebags. It brought back my pure hatred for Gore’s scumbag (then) wife. God I hate that person. I didn’t even think about voting for Bush after he exhumed all of his dad and Reagan’s minions to help him, though.

                • Bruce B.

                  Yeah, a lot of the folks I know in the computer game world felt some serious concern that as VP, Leiberman would work very hard to destroy their jobs, while at the time, Republicans would be more likely to rah-rah the whole thing as American enterprising spirit &c.

              • Salem

                a lot of my really smart friends believed the Iraq sanctions regime was the most evil thing possible in the world

                Your friends were quite right that the Iraq sanctions regime was incredibly evil and is the root of many of Iraq’s ongoing problems today*. Clinton’s policy there was evil, inhumane, and created the conditions in Iraq that, combined with Bush’s bungling, have resulted in humanitarian and political catastrophe. However, I don’t remember anyone saying it was the most evil thing possible. Worse than the Holocaust? No. Things can always get worse.

                *This is not intended as an absolution of Bush.

                • Matt McIrvin

                  When I look back on the collection of severe emotional and logical errors that led me to give early support to Bush’s Iraq adventure, I think one of the primary ones was that, in the late Clinton years, I thought the preexisting situation in Iraq was an intolerable one that would have to be resolved in some nasty Gordian-knot-cutting manner sooner or later.

                  And I think Bill Clinton may have thought that too, which is why he supported Bush’s invasion. And I was also listening to him.

                  It was a bad situation. But these things can be made worse, and it was. There was no need for a bold stroke other than the political opportunity to make one.

                • Matt McIrvin

                  …as for 2000, I’d voted for Gore with, actually, quite a bit of enthusiasm; it wasn’t a lesser-evil kind of thing, on balance I liked the guy, maybe more than I did Clinton.

                  But when the election dispute happened and dragged on for weeks, I remember feeling some need to give proper consideration to things like George Will’s projective whining about the criminal perfidy of the Gore campaign, and I thought it was much more important to get some result properly ratified by the rule of law than for Gore to win, or even for the person with more votes in Florida to win. Of course, we really got neither.

                  Living through the Bush years definitely radicalized me. My attitude toward military policy has become more “I will no longer tinker with the machinery of death”; some wars might be justified but I no longer trust my own ability to approve of them, so I leave the defense of them to somebody else.

                  And I think the Republican Party basically needs to be destroyed as a national force before any sort of progress can happen. Long-term, maybe the Democrats too, but the order is important; if that happens first, very bad things will happen.

              • Ahuitzotl

                a lot of my really smart friends believed the Iraq sanctions regime was the most evil thing possible in the world, and Gore deserved to be punished for it

                how the frygg does that even make sense, even at the time – Gore was VP, the appendix of politics

            • skate

              but how liberals, myself included, managed to convince themselves that Bush wasn’t that bad in 2000, is a real mystery

              WTF? I still remember being in a bar watching the tube the night Gore conceded. I was grinding my teeth so bad that a friend was telling me to calm down.

              I was calling him Oedipus Tex back then and knew he was going to get into it with Iraq because he had to prove that he was a better man than daddy.

            • Rob in CT

              In my case, I was 23 years old and was still doing the fiscally “conservative”/socially liberal thing, and just plain wasn’t paying attention (to anything beyond really broad strokes stuff, which makes one vulnerable to bullshit). Result? Heh, a vote for Nader b/c we need third parties to shake things up, maaaaan. Not that it had any impact, here in CT (which was part of the reason for the vote). When SCOTUS said Bush won, I was fine with it. I had no fucking idea what we were in for.

              All of that changed within the span of 2, maybe 2 1/2 years. The tax cuts, after spending the 1990s railing against Keynesian econ (1st round was sold as stimulus in response to the dot com bust) and screeching about debt made me stop & think. Without even an iota of shame, they did a 180. I remember distinctly saying “wait, I don’t need a tax cut, I’m just gonna stick it in the bank.” I figured if you wanted a stimulative tax cut you’d focus it on people who would spend the money. From that point, even if there had been no Iraq!, The Sequel, I think I was on my way to becoming a Democrat. It might’ve taken longer and there might’ve been less passion involved, but the veil was pierced. I realized they were full of shit when it came to fiscal prudence.

              Then came the run-up to Iraq II, with all of its obvious dishonesty. There went my pre-existing belief that the GOP was the party of “adults” on FP (remember, Dubya appeared to promise not to get into a bunch of foreign adventures and such during the campaign). By the time tax cuts, round II happened in ’03, I was furious. By ’04, I was a partisan Democrat.

              So, I plead youth, being raised by Reagan-worshipping Republican parents, while taking my lumps for laziness/inattention and the resulting ignorance.

              • tsam

                I was 30 at the time, and after watching the Republicans impeach Clinton, their Contract With America, and the constant bullshit they pulled (though I sort of miss the days when they were only THAT fucking crazy) I knew by that time I would never vote for one of those pricks. Oh, and after they bullshitted their way into ousting Tom Foley-a very conservative Dem who was the Speaker of the House at the time-I was just done with those fucking losers.

                • Rob in CT

                  See, in my household, the Contract With America was a good thing (this involved completely ignoring all the religiously-motivated bullshit and focusing exclusively on spending cuts) because debt. DEBT! They forced the Clintonmonster to cut the deficit, therefore good. Yay Gingrich. Sigh.

                  Now, the truth is I wish we had somewhat less debt. But I’ve come to realize a bunch of things about US government debt that I just didn’t know in the 90s and that, in turn, makes me realize the GOP is a bunch of fucking rabid jackals on the issue (just like every issue). Also, too, money spent on war fucking counts, yo.

                • tsam

                  Well, those of us who remember the fiscally responsible Reagan cutting taxes for rich people and shoveling nearly unprecedented amounts of money into the military complex (resulting in some huge deficits) know that all the republican bluster about debt and deficits was pure bullshit.

                  That 2000 election was a bad one for me. We had a Democrat who patted himself on the back for “reforming” welfare, who was there when Clinton signed Phil Gramm’s bank deregulation, a guy with wife who acted like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady character, and just another shitbag born-again spoiled brat rich kid Republican who was restoring the glory of the Reagan regime…

                  I still wanted nothing to do with Nader at the time. The more he talked the more I anticipated a PUT THE LOTION IN THE BASKET moment from him.

                • Rob in CT

                  Right, but when Reagan was in office I was a little kid, so I had no idea. And I was told that Democrats take your money and waste it (which, of course, isn’t always false).

                  And my parents loved him because he cut their taxes (actually, I bet if you did a full analysis, he didn’t really, given the later hikes and the fact that my dad retired in ’81 or ’82) and made them feel good. And wasn’t Carter. They hated Carter and all Democrats with the passion of a thousand suns b/c in the late 70s my father’s income was enough to trigger the top marginal income tax rate (which was Carter’s fault, of course). Dad was a Tory, so high tax/high service was just bad because. He loved Thatcher. Mom came from a working-class background and, while she rejected her religion and her father’s overt racism, totally absorbed his anti-government feelings. She has a really impressive case of tax derangement syndrome, coupled with not actually understanding how taxes work (conflating the top marginal rate paid with effective tax rate). Though at this point, I think I’ve hammered home the point about how marginal rates actually work enough times that it’s lodged *somewhere* in the back of her mind. She feels, on a deep emotional level, that the estate tax (ANY estate taxation) is a moral wrong.

                  This is where I came from.

                • tsam

                  My mom was a CPA with extensive knowledge of government finances, so she explained what was really going on with Reaganomics. Those later hikes hit the middle class, and to this day, the rich are still paying far less than their fair share.

                  There is always an urge to be “fiscally conservative”. Jefferson had that urge and we paid a heavy price in the War of 1812 for it. It comes from thinking that the government has a checking account the same way a family does. It’s hard to fault young people (people who shared your worldview are essentially today’s Libertarians) for having a simplistic view of how government works, and being oblivious to actual real-world benefits of having agencies that monitor the environment, working conditions, build roads, regulate commerce, etc…So younger people get a pass for being a bit ignorant of how things really work. But if you make it into your 30s and you aren’t obscenely wealthy and still buy the Republican snake oil, you really fucked up somewhere along the way.

                • Rob in CT

                  Even setting aside the Federal budget as family bank account fallacy, there is the difference between states and the Feds. Connecticut has real constraints that the Federal government does not. Thus, you can rationally be a little concerned about the debt load that, say, CT carries (it really is quite high, and worries me, because every dollar we spend on debt service is a dollar we cannot spend on something else). But freaking out about Federal debt would be a mistake (at least at this point).

              • Ahuitzotl

                I realized they were full of shit when it came to fiscal prudence.

                well a glance at how Ronnie’s brains trust ran the economy in the 80s would have shown that, but hey, you were young.Really, we shouldnt give the vote to anyone under 40. Or over 50. Or more than 50 miles from any ocean. Or redheads.

              • tsam

                I don’t mean to imply that heavy debt loads don’t matter, but after a recession like this one, that stuff is going to hang around for a while after. Add two wars that never went into the budget from ’01 to ’09, then yeah, debt service can get pretty unruly. However, our current debt is almost interest free. There are also lots of benefits to actual people for the government to issue bonds. They’re a safe place to park money for those of us who don’t have the nerve to expose our necks to the stock market.

                No lumps given–we’ve all had views we later learned to change, reasoned into a change, had a life event cause a change–that’s a good thing.

              • UncleEbeneezer

                That’s very similar to my story (nearly same age, Republican parents etc.). Clueless Nader vote in CA. Only for me it was Iraq that made me see the light. Actually it was the internet and having a day job where I mostly spent my hours explore the early-Aughts Left-o-sphere (including LG&M.) Reading long form arguments with accompanying links to sources forced me to realize that Chris Matthews is not a trustworthy source for making voting decisions. #Iblameitonmyyouth

                • Rob in CT

                  Arguing on the internet about the obviously dishonest push for war in Iraq was something of a formative experience for me.

                  I realized that a lot of people who considered themselves serious, sober people were, particularly after 9/11, anything but. The arguments put forth were garbage, the goalposts never stayed still, and the general level of ignorance (mine included, mind you) about the area we were about to invade, occupy and somehow arrange to our liking was staggering.

                  My FP views are still a little off from many Democrats. I’m actually more of a paleoconservative on FP, which is why I view things like “R2P” with deep suspicion, and disliked the intervention in Libya (or nudge-nudge, wink-wink involvement in Syria).

                  But I’ve come to fully understand that [America’s True Progressive Hero] Ron Rand Paul is not the solution to my disagreements with US foreign policy, or anything else. My time of libertarian curiosity is over.

            • tsam

              It’s because he did a magnificent job of selling that compassionate conservatism bullshit. Putting aside the fact that that term is a laughable oxymoron, the danger signals were all there–mainly that Bush brought back all of Reagan and Bush Sr’s cronies. That was a sign that the Reagan years were coming back.

              • David Hunt

                It’s because he did a magnificent job of selling that compassionate conservatism bullshit. Putting aside the fact that that term is a laughable oxymoron

                Not quite an oxymoron. You just have to parse it correctly. He meant compassion FOR conservatives.

                • tsam

                  Only the already wealthy conservatives. There are millions of dirt poor conservatives out there that lap up that bullshit like a dog eating his own puke.

            • brewmn

              During the 2000 campaign, a friend of mine and I were talking about it several drinks into an evening out. At some point, she basically yelled at me that, if I like Bush so much and hate Gore/Clinton so much, then why don’t I go ahead and vote for Bush? My response was, that if I thought Bush would govern as he campaigned, I might.

              I think the reason for so many liberals being Bush-curious in 2000 was a combination of Bush running aggressively against the callous conservatism of the Reagan years, Gore failing to offer a clear rationale for his candidacy (including running away from the economic successes of the Clinton administration), and the media’s execrable portrayals of Bush as guy you’d enjoy having a beer with and Gore as a supercilious liar.

              Despite all that, I don’t think many of us were fooled into actually voting for the Worst President in American History.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            right. I started reading some of that later, anti-Bush, stuff, and I was like “fuck you! you *own* this guy!”

            I dunno. I know at Rolling Stone, Texas Monthly (my dad subscribed- I’d read his old copies) and somewhere else, I had read up on W Bush and I just knew from the get go we wanted no part of him. It was a frustrating election- if only we’d had internet then

            • brewmn

              Somewhat ironically, one of the things that set my mind unalterably against Bush was a great article in Harpers in March of 2000 (I believe), that detailed the cronyism that kept promoting the Dauphin upwards despite a consistent record of utter failure in every endeavor he’d ever attempted.

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                I think I remember that too. There were a couple of things running through my head at the time- one was that Bush was going to be like Harding, only meaner, and that his administration was going to be just as bad as it could possibly get away with being. And also I just thought congressional Republicans, based on their record from 1994 on, were not the kind of people who should be trusted with power either. I’m pretty sure I got a lot of this from reading Joe Conason and Gene Lyons in Harpers too

                There was just something morally wrong with the management of the magazine, that it could run those articles and yet the editor himself is writing long articles that say nothing more than “Gush = Bore”

                but it wasn’t fooled liberals who elected Bush. It was the usual suspects, the mushy middle

            • Ahuitzotl

              if only we’d had internet then

              Iowa didnt have the internet in 2000?

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                nope. still used smoke signals then. using a morse-code adapter on the telegraph to post here now

                • Need to work cow patties in there somehow.

  • weirdnoise

    I subscribed for years — a couple decades, really — but left them shortly before Lapham did. The articles were less insightful and increasingly spurious and polemic, but I think it was the increasing number of ads targeting the affluent that put me off most. Perhaps they were always there, but they seemed more prominent as the rest of the magazine became less interesting. Very sad…

    • Anonymous37

      You should see the ads now. There are, of course, the ads for various small and university presses (and one for a New Jersey theater company, at least in the most recent print edition). Which are completely unobjectionable and appropriate for a magazine like what Harper’s once was. And there are the handful of ads for the magazine and collections of its writings. Again, perfectly reasonable for any magazine.

      Pretty much every other ad is aimed towards old people. In the July 2015 issue, there’s an ad for a retirement community, hats for the sixty-something set, cellphones for old people, and hearing aids. There’s also a third-of-a-page ad for pheromones, a sixth-of-a-page ad for old timey non-electronic barometers and thermometers, and a strip of classified ads.

      All of this probably comes off as crowing at the demise of a magazine I’ve slammed. But I could see this happening to a much better magazine that failed to attract younger readers and advertising dollars. And when Harper’s really starts to pick up speed on its downward slope, the cryptic crossword — another item in its pages that mostly appeals to old people — will disappear.

      On the other hand, The Atlantic got rid of theirs more than 5 years ago, and it seems to be thriving, at least as much as a political monthly can thrive. I guess what I’m saying is: someone please point me to a publication that regularly publishes cryptic crosswords so I can stop mentioning them in every damn comment I make in this blog.

      • Lee Rudolph

        someone please point me to a publication that regularly publishes cryptic crosswords

        The Nation.

        • AB

          Yes, and with the Nation you still get those full-page ads for hearing aids, walk-in bathtubs, etc. No reason not to switch, oldies!

          • Anonymous37

            And if Calvin Trillin was right about how cheap Victor Navasky is, The Nation treats its employees just as badly.

            Ugh. I guess I’m going to have to go Transatlantic for my fix.

      • Ahuitzotl

        The Times? (of London)

        I think the Torygraph still does, too

        • KadeKo


          I love the name. Can’t believe I never heard it.

      • matt w

        someone please point me to a publication that regularly publishes cryptic crosswords

        Games Magazine? (Not absolutely positive, I haven’t subscribed for a couple decades.)

        • Anonymous37

          You know, I haven’t picked up a copy of Games in more than 2 decades. But I guess it’s worth a shot.

      • someone please point me to a publication that regularly publishes cryptic crosswords

        Tales From the Crypt? Can’t go wrong with EC Comics.

      • wjts

        I guess what I’m saying is: someone please point me to a publication that regularly publishes cryptic crosswords so I can stop mentioning them in every damn comment I make in this blog.

        I love the New York Times crossword, and I’m pretty good at it (Saturday puzzle in pen every week). But I have never been able to get the hang of cryptics. I tried the Harper’s puzzle several times but never solved a single clue. And when I checked the puzzle against the answer in the next month’s issue, I just wound up more confused (“So the clue is, ‘Repent, vainglorious Cappadocian! Alas, the cattle.’ and the answer is, ‘asparagus’. Fuck this.”).

        • Anonymous37

          “So the clue is, ‘Repent, vainglorious Cappadocian! Alas, the cattle.’ and the answer is, ‘asparagus’. Fuck this.”

          Ha! Now if Harper’s would only limit that sort of bizarre incoherence to the crossword page, their circulation might not be in the crapper.

  • Lapham was pretty annoying most of the time, but it’s still amazing how quickly Harper’s fell into total irrelevancy.

    • David Allan Poe

      The paradigmatic end-stage Harper’s article for me now is one Lapham wrote in, oh, around 2003-2005. I believe it was called “The Octopus” or something like that, and it was a very detailed exposition of the right-wing media machine and its origins in the various foundations that were formed in the mid-seventies. The starting point was that Lapham himself was approached as a possibly friendly contact by these organizations (Heritage, etc.) in the early 80s during his first editorship.

      It neatly illustrates the trouble with the current magazine: a critical overview of a very real thing, the right-wing propaganda machine, showing how it operates on a personal level. But the entire basis for the article is that this well-funded arm of the Republican Party believed, with reason, that it had found a fellow traveler in the editor of one of the oldest left-leaning magazines in the country.

    • Brad Nailer

      YMMV, of course. I still like to pick up Gag Rule and Theater of War every now and then, and I recall that Imperial Masquerade and A Wish for Kings were pretty good, too. I also used to look forward to Laphman’s columns in Harper’s.

      The man may have become a crank in his old age, but his liberality, or whatever you want to call it, was inspirational to a former babe-in-the-woods like me.

  • Warren Terra

    I still subscribe to Harpers, even though it’s been years since I found any merit in the leading editorial, even though the internet has essentially rendered moot the curated digest of curious texts that leads each issue, because usually there are a couple of good articles in every issue.

    The latest issue – the one with the feature article traducing the ACA, which unusually for me I didn’t finish – was just execrable. Little if any of it was worth even trying to read.

  • joel hanes

    In the first few years of “Harpers Index”, that feature alone was reason to subscribe. The best of all listicles, and certainly a very early example.

    • brewmn

      My subscription to Harpers began in the mid-’80’s when I won a Harpers Index quiz on my local NPR station.

      That magazine probably has more to do with the formation of my political outlook than any other single source. The fact that they have turned into a third-rate source of lefty anti-Obamaism (and ruined Thomas Frank for me in the process) breaks my heart. Hell, even Rick MacArthur wrote a great book about the media’s utter abandonment of objective, critical coverage of politics during the Reagan years. Their decline is absolutely baffling.

  • David Allan Poe

    The only thing the subscription is really worth now is access to the archives, which are pretty incredible. I’m still not going to renew mine.

    On the one hand, I find it sad that the oldest monthly in America has gone to shit and really doesn’t have much of a purpose anymore, especially since in the late nineties and early 2000s it did play a fairly significant role in my personal journey out of benighted conservatism into the bright and glorious sunshine of liberalism, but I’m not sure the world really cries out for the voice of income-secure educated anti-intellectualism it has slowly become. Aside from the obvious leftier-than-thou stuff that’s been sadly common over the last seven years, I can think of a bunch of kooky woo articles about how HIV doesn’t have anything to do with AIDS and another long bit about cell phones destroying your brain. It wouldn’t surprise me if the next issue was about the evils of gluten or how vaccines cause the gout.

    • Gayle Force

      That is exactly why I still have a subscription: the archives.

      And while there was a time I used to read it cover to cover, I skim through now, as there are still gems sometimes – memoirs, or the “letters from [somewhere abroad]”. They are few and far between, but I’ve been balancing the archives and occasional gem versus supporting a magazine that’s become pretty loathsome (remember that HIV/AIDS denial article? Oy). It’s a hard call every year.

  • Richard Hershberger

    I subscribed for years to The Atlantic. Then the percentage of each issue that I knew from the Table of Contents alone would merely annoy me grew too large, and I let my subscription drop. I am still getting pathetic pleas to renew. In any case, at that point I looked around to find a replacement. I tried several issues of Harpers. This was not it. I haven’t found one. New York Review of Books sort-of, but that really is a different niche.

    • Barry_D

      I think that it comes down to the fact that such a magazine needs a serious Sugar Daddy, and people like that tend to a lot of right-wing sh*t. Even if they are gay, or want their daughters to have opportunities[1], they’ll still move in circles where 9% of the rest of the population is their servants, and 90% is cattle.

      [1] Which doesn’t necessarily lead to much support of feminism, because the daughters of hundred-millionaires will always have opportunities.

  • Shakezula

    Wow, do any of the Harperites here recall if there was a major change in content in 2013? That’s a sharp drop in circulation.

  • Bruce Vail

    My wife and I subscribed to Harper’s for a number of years and enjoyed it very much.

    I don’t think we were subscribing at the time of the 2000 election, or at least I have no recollection of being annoyed by Lapham’s opinions of Gore-Bush-Nader. But we didn’t subscribe because we wanted Lapham to tell us what to think anyway. We subscribed because we knew there would be interesting material to read.

    Good luck to the union supporters at Harper’s. They are lucky that if they decide to get rid of UAW then there are other unions in NYC that would welcome into the fold.

  • Rob in CT

    On topic, I’d say:


    Sounds like special pleading to me.

    Don’t make US pay overtime! We’re different…

    • matt w

      Oh dear…

      As you’re probably aware, large swaths of the publishing world run on the energy of ambitious, educated, and badly underpaid young people, who are willing—and often content—to work long hours for the sake of being read, and potentially noticed by editors elsewhere who will one day hire them for more money. There are a few problems with subjecting those eager twentysomethings to overtime rules.

      First, the government isn’t necessarily protecting them from exploitation. While journalism and other creative fields have been guilty of some indefensible labor practices—hello, unpaid internships— advancing in them requires building a body of work over time that will impress future employers. Sometimes that requires a bit more than 40 hours a week of effort.

      A modest proposal: If someone is building their resumé by doing the work you hired them to do, then you need to pay them for the time they spend doing that work. If you don’t, you’re exploiting them.

      And if you’re so solicitous about their ability to build a body of work that impresses future employers and you absolutely can’t abide to pay them time and a half, maybe you could give them 40 hours of free and clear writing time a week? Somehow I suspect that most of these employees are spending some of their time doing stuff other than producing stuff that they can put in their portfolios.

      • I heard those immigrant gardeners being paid under the table are just happy to have work, too. Why ruin their sweet deal by demanding minimum wages and payroll deductions?

      • Shakezula

        The slatiest of pitches.

        Complete silence on the fact that the reason more and more interns are expected to live on exposure is that more and more employers don’t pay them and use exposure as the justification for refusing to pay them. I don’t know any journalists who worked for free at the start of their careers, unless you count the school newspaper.

        Of course, it isn’t just interns any more. Several people I follow on les twits complain of being asked to work for “exposure,” and getting shitty responses when they refuse.

  • Davis X. Machina

    OT, The Atlantic now running a review of Evan Thomas’ Nixon bio, by Elizabeth Drew: “Richard Nixon Was Not Misunderstood”.

    Apparently Nixon was not a closet liberal….

    He’s given credit for signing into law several bills to improve the environment, including establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. But in fact, Nixon wasn’t very interested in the subject and he fobbed it off on his aides to handle, saying at one point: “Just keep me out of trouble on environmental issues.” He privately called the then-rising environmental movement “crap” for “clowns.”

    • Vance Maverick

      That’s interesting….but I’m more struck by how poorly edited it is. Unidiomatic word choices, garbled syntax. Knowing Drew, I blame the magazine. (Well, maybe she’s so used to working with the NYer editors that she just dashed it off, but that seems uncharacteristic.)

  • so-in-so

    Somewhat OT, but given the text, I think the top post image uses the wrong flag…

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