Editor's Note

Editor's Note

Michael Tomasky introduces Issue #35

By Michael Tomasky

As autumn progressed and the leaves fell from the trees, an odd thing happened: Americans, desperately war-weary after the past decade, seemed to grow more resigned to the fact that war will continue. Most of us, even if we support airstrikes against the Islamic State, remain nervous and apprehensive about just how long this is going to last and what the next steps might entail.

One group, though, is not so apprehensive. For the neoconservatives, the ISIS war represents their chance to get back in the game. Badly discredited after the Iraq fiasco and even now challenged by the isolationists within the Republican Party over which they’ve long held sway, the neocons are making a bid to call the shots again. And this time, they aren’t limiting their gambit to Republicans.

In our lead essay, Council on Foreign Relations president emeritus and Democracy editorial advisory committee member Leslie H. Gelb takes note of the neocon attempt, led by Robert Kagan, to seduce Hillary Clinton to join the club. To Gelb’s dismay, Clinton shows a few disquieting signs of being willing to be seduced. So he steps in to remind Clinton and all of us of how wrong Kagan has been about so many things—and, more importantly, to suggest the kind of foreign-policy path, rooted in the Truman tradition, that Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Democrats should be following instead.

In May 2014, the left-wing historian Gabriel Kolko died. His book The Triumph of Conservatism was a touchstone for two generations of students of history on the liberal left, and his passing made us think that the time was right for an assessment of the New Left historians of the 1960s, whose impact on the writing of history—and in turn, on the way all of us who read and care about politics think of history—was so profound. They were the first generation to write history “from the bottom up” (a phrase coined by one of them), and their recognition of what they sometimes called “subaltern” groups has become widespread across liberalism and indeed to a great extent across society.

Rich Yeselson, who last wrote in these pages about the malign legacy of the Taft-Hartley Act, has produced a fascinating essay on the lives and times of Kolko and other key New Left historians, and on their legacy. Oddly, he rereads Triumph and finds it not nearly as compelling as he did 30 years ago; its flaws, he argues, reflect some larger flaws of the movement. But this is history any modern progressive should want to know.

Our surveillance state is one of the most controversial topics of our era. Its harshest critics see an irredeemably neo-totalitarian apparatus, while other critics wonder if it isn’t possible to reform it and rein it in while still allowing it to perform its necessary functions. Margo Schlanger writes informatively on some reforms that are now being enacted to try to bring surveillance more in line with civil libertarian values, and she recommends further steps that could be taken. And finally in the feature well, Samuel Bagenstos brings attention to the crisis in how we care for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities—that is, rather well until they’re 22, and after that, well, good luck to them. He demonstrates how we can fix this.

Elsewhere in this issue, Rick Perlstein responds to Jacob Weisberg’s not-so-friendly review of Perlstein’s book, The Invisible Bridge. (It’s a not-so-friendly response.) The book reviews begin with Matthew Duss’s richly nuanced reading of Joshua Muravchik’s and Max Blumenthal’s recent books about Israel. From there, Linda Robinson discusses the United States’ use of armed drones; Lee Drutman assesses Zephyr Teachout’s new book on money and corruption in politics; Beth Simmons blasts Eric Posner’s dismissal of human rights law; and Christine Rosen reviews Nicholas Carr’s book on automation.

And be sure to check out our website, www.democracyjournal.org, for online exclusives. There you’ll find new pieces by Eric Alterman on the tempestuous—yet often fruitful—relationship between liberals and radicals, Jessica Arons on how progressives can move the needle on abortion politics, and Monica Potts on Linda Tirado’s new book on who the poor are and how they live. Our blog, Arguments, also features timely and thoughtful commentary on the day’s headlines, courtesy of contributing web editor Nathan Pippenger, formerly of The New Republic.

Finally, ’tis the season for giving. Readers like you make Democracy possible. This holiday season, consider making a tax-deductible donation. Visit our website to find out how you can help us keep going. As always, thank you for reading.

Michael Tomasky is the editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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