Browsing the Magazine Rack
A mega-ditto to Tim on his comments on the New Republic's Stanley Kauffman, below. If only their mostly-spiffy (insides great, cover vaguely like a controlled-circulation throwaway) redesign had managed to clean up that particularly cluttered and stinky corner of the magazine.
I tend to be made uncomfortable by redesigns in familiar magazines (and then a few months later forget what it used to look like, of course). So it's good that editor Peter Beinart is staying the course that makes the New Rep what it is, standing up reliably for such inevitabilities as death (yay, war on Iraq!) and taxes (boo, any tax cut anywhere!) and casting a jaundiced eye on uppity black people (the Al Sharpton takedown recently is part of a long tradition of New Republic assaults on prominent black Americans, which is not of course to say anything about whether those assaults are deserved in any specific case).
Elsewhere in the magazine world this month, Harper's hits us with a strangely under-commented-on expose of what appears by their telling to be a genuine conspiracy of neo-Nazis at the highest echelons of American politics. The March issue has "Jesus Plus Nothing: Undercover among America's Secret Theocrats," a long, fascinating, sneaky "I pretended to be one of them" inside look at the sinister "Family," a gaggle of white men who look up to Jesus and apparently Hitler as well, including Senators Don Nickles (R-Okla.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) among many other politicians. They used to call themselves such names as the National Committee for Christian Leadership and the National Fellowship Council, so you know there's something fishy going on here.
In that clever, highly deniable Harper's style (see here for a previous intrepid attempt on my part to get to the bottom of what a Harper's story was trying to really say) author Jeffrey Sharlet never outright calls the group a bunch of Nazis, but takes care to point out twice–the second time with a quite bludgeoning effect–that Family leaders use Hitler as a positive example of men who built their kingdoms on a "covenant" the likes of which Family members are meant to emulate. The story ends with some of that old-time Harper's subtlely–instead of wrapping up with a message, a call to arms, or even a screech of fear that these sports-playing, Hitler-referencing Christ maniacs are on the verge of ruling the world, it peters out with a–ominous in its chilling banality–little account of playing flashlight tag with some innocent kids caught in the family web. Any fan of Harper's highly imitable style will not want to miss this one. I can't resist an extended quote. This is the last few sentences of the story. With Harper's, by God, you will know you are dealing with a WRITER: "A figure approached and I sprang up and ran, down the sidewalk, and up through a garden, over a wall that my pursuer, a small boy, had trouble climbing. But once he was over he kept charging, and just as I was about to vanish into the trees his flashlight caught mne. "Jeff I see you you're It!" the boy cried. I stopped and turned, and he kept the beam on me. Blinded, I could hear only the slap of his sneakers as he ran across the driveway toward me. "Okay, dude," he whispered, and turned off the flashlight. I recognized him as little Stevie, whose drawing of a machine gun we had posted in our bunk room. He handed the flashlight to me, spun around, started to run, then stopped and looked over his shoulders. "You're It now," he whispered, and disappeared into the dark."