I wish it hadn’t come to this. In an ideal world, I would have more time, more money, and more energy, and would be able to evenhandedly divide my attention between all of the publications, journals of opinion and otherwise, that I read.
I remember being 14 or 15, and sitting in my friend Francisco’s basement, talking about the latest Nation his parents had received. (It was the ca. 1996 issue about the capitalization of Chile, if anyone remembers that) I haven’t become completely cynical yet, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to summon up the kind of self-righteous indignation we had then.
After ninth grade was over, I had more schoolwork and less time, and Fran and I moved on to different social groups, and I hardly did any Nation reading. I was out of touch in a lot of ways, though; my knowledge of current events was limited to what I saw at 6 (or 6:30, or 7) on the front page when I delivered my paper route.
The summer after I graduated from high school, I got back into it. School was over. I was going to Germany for a year; I was taking a break. It seems like much of those free months before I left the country, I spent on my mom’s patio, reading the Nation and the NY Times. When I cast my absentee ballot that fall, I was secure in my nascent-yet-formless ideology: I voted Nader. That was the high-water mark for my Nation-reading, and really for my progressive leanings, too.
I was as pissed as anyone that Bush won in 2000, but even more so that Nader didn’t make his 5%. The final nut shot was when Bush walked out of Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 2001, and it had become clear that Bush would not, in fact, govern by the mandate he’d received.
As the years have passed, and I’ve come to pay more attention to the news, The Nation serves my needs less and less. I’ve always loved the way fierce polemic is cheek-by-jowl with in-depth, considered book reviews in The Nation, but recently even their reviews have become less meditative and more strident. (I’m tempted to impute some of this to the Navasky-vanden Heuvel switch)
Some of my problems with The Nation are generational. I don’t know if it’s accurate to say that The Nation’s readership is older, but I think their editorial stance reflects a commitment to classical leftist/progressive values that people under 35 don’t live by any more. We don’t see Vietnam in every foreign intervention, and people my age see that trade unionism frequently creates as many problems as it solves.
Generational difference isn’t a problem. I spend most of my time talking to my coevals, and there are few things I like more than talking with someone 30 or 40 years older than me, someone who’s lived and fought and strove, someone whose beliefs reflect their life and not just Daily Kos.
The problem is that The Nation has degenerated and grown out of touch; where once it was a bustling agora with shouts and discussions, with age and callow youth, a once proud institution has decayed into a despairing and curmudgeonly mutter.