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Washington Monthly (26 found)

Slow Down, Holbrooke!

May 6, 2019  | 

The late American diplomat Richard Holbrooke (1941–2010) had a knack, that is to say a weakness, for self-promotion. He lobbied for the Nobel Peace Prize. He hinted broadly that he could serve as secretary of state. When one of his old friends died, Holbrooke petitioned the man’s widow to be included among the eulogists. During …

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Long Fight for Equality

November 1, 2018  | 

After earning admission to Harvard Law School but before starting classes, Ruth Bader got married and became Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In light of her new status, the law school asked to see the financial statements of her husband’s father, as if in some pantomime of a dowry negotiation. He was wealthy. Harvard decided not to …

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Ready to Blow

July 17, 2018  | 

How times change. One of the most alarming features of daily life in the United States just a generation ago has seemingly disappeared. Between 1945 and 1991, as Americans went to work, took their children to school, watched ball games, and napped on the beach, the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union hummed …

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Russia’s Founding Father

August 24, 2017  | 

When Mikhail Gorbachev rose to give his first address as general secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, listeners could be forgiven their low expectations. The previous three Soviet premiers were walking fossils. Their mumbling speeches inspired no one. Konstantin Chernenko, Gorbachev’s immediate predecessor, wheezed and coughed and was as yellow as old fingernails; a …

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The Worst Job in the World

March 20, 2017  | 

In 1981, the Atlantic Monthly published a devastating critique of supply-side economics called “The Education of David Stockman.” The article was a major embarrassment for the Reagan administration: Stockman was the president’s budget director, and had publicly undermined the theory and numbers behind Reagan’s entire economic program. The cover of the magazine even featured a …

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Shoot the Hippies

March 15, 2016  | 

When does harsh political rhetoric lead to violence? We live in an age of dangerously hot-blooded talking points, especially on the far right. The Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz described President Obama as the world’s leading sponsor of Islamic terrorism. Donald Trump recently said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot …

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Restoring Henry

September 15, 2015  | 

In 1940 the young Henry Kissinger, caught in a love quadrangle, drafted a letter to the object of his affections. Her name was Edith. He and his friends Oppus and Kurt admired her attractiveness and had feelings for her, the letter said. But a “solicitude for your welfare” is what prompted him to write—“to caution …

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On Not Canonizing the Gipper

July 2, 2015  | 

When I think of Ronald Reagan, I am reminded of a car salesman named Mo who once put me in a used Nissan. The car I wanted had a sticker price that seemed a little steep. Seeking to negotiate, I made an offer. Mo—who I should mention was irrepressibly pleasant and impossible to dislike—proved unwilling …

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SCOTUS Heads Toward the Cliff

January 15, 2015  | 

What is the difference between judicial conservatives and judicial libertarians? You will not hear many libertarians protest the Roberts Court’s recent trend to give corporations First Amendment rights, such as the right to donate to political campaigns (Citizens United) and the right to oppose contraceptive coverage on religious grounds (Hobby Lobby). Conservatives and libertarians sparred …

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Scalia in Sweden

July 15, 2014  | 

The cover of this book says it all. There he is, grinning complacently, his black judges’ robes fading into black. The hair has thinned and the jaw is heavier than it used to be. He is an old bull now instead of a young buck. No one is there on the cover with him: he …

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Letters from Camelot

January 15, 2014  | 

Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s parents fell in love, married, and produced an egghead. He wore eyeglasses and a bow tie. He spoke in perfectly formed sentences. At the age of twenty-eight he won his first Pulitzer Prize, for a biography of Andrew Jackson. Fifteen years later he entered the White House for the defining experience of …

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What Tea Party Republicans Can Learn from Woodrow Wilson

September 15, 2013  | 

Two achievements and two failures define Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. Historians have spilled rivers of ink debating whether the former outweigh the latter. Wilson’s domestic achievement was to pass a major legislative program called the New Freedom, featuring progressive taxation, antitrust laws, tariff reduction, and the creation of the Federal Reserve system. His domestic failure was …

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The Great Unraveling

May 1, 2013  | 

Do not utter the words “American decline” to your conservative friends. Never mind the arguments for or against: to some on the right the mere topic is a kind of blasphemy, at once impious and infuriating. America can never falter, say its most reflexive champions. It’s America. It is not merely one of 200-odd nations …

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A Malevolent Forrest Gump

September 1, 2012  | 

Like many artists and most bigots, Strom Thurmond was highly productive early in life. By the age of fifty-five, the humorless South Carolina reactionary had run for president as a Dixiecrat, secured election to the U.S. Senate, penned the neo-confederate “Southern Manifesto” denouncing Brown v. Board of Education, and performed the longest one-man filibuster in …

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Young Guns

July 1, 2012  | 

Of the many surprises in President Obama’s first term—accomplishing health care reform, neglecting judicial nominations, appointing Hillary Clinton secretary of state—the most interesting may be the administration’s robust foreign policy. Democrats are supposed to be strong on domestic matters but weak on defense. The party seemed to have embraced that stereotype by nominating a community …

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Thinking Out Loud

March 1, 2012  | 

Tony Judt died nearly two years ago, yet he keeps writing books. A historian of Europe, an essayist for the New York Review of Books, and an outspoken public intellectual, Judt died in August 2010 after a long and public struggle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. During the final years of his life he was extraordinarily …

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The Last Days of Hugh Trevor-Roper

January 1, 2012  | 

Such is the hunger for new books about Nazi Germany that authors have begun chronicling the chroniclers. Last autumn Newsday editor Steve Wick wrote The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a history of the famous journalist’s dispatches from Berlin in the 1930s. The latest arrival in …

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Justice Served

November 1, 2011  | 

In an age of judicial philosophies, abstract methods of interpretation, and trite baseball metaphors, John Paul Stevens was a common-law judge. Justice Antonin Scalia practices textualism; Justice Clarence Thomas practices originalism. Chief Justice John Roberts is developing a sort of reactionary legalism. Even the Supreme Court’s liberals have gotten in on the game. In a …

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Solitary Confinement

January 15, 2011  | 

Tony Judt disliked the grand title “public intellectual,” even though he embodied it to the last day of his life. Judt (pronounced “Jutt”) was a professor of European history at New York University who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease at age sixty-two in August 2010. Before his death he rose to great prominence on two …

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Moynihan’s Legacy: Great Writer, Lousy Senator

November 15, 2010  | 

Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s main interests were matters of domestic policy like face and poverty, yet his single best and single worst moments occurred at the United Nations, where he served as U.S. ambassador from 1975 to 1976. In October 1975, just before a UN committee passed the terrible resolution declaring that “Zionism is a form …

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French Connection

July 1, 2010  | 

The most remarkable moment of the Dreyfus affair, which noisily consumed France for over a decade at the turn of the twentieth century, occurred quietly in May 1895. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew and a captain in the French army, had been wrongly convicted by court-martial of treason, largely on the strength of secret and forged …

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Infinite Regret

May 1, 2010  | 

One struggles to find a concise, representative anecdote about the late David Foster Wallace for an audience of politically minded readers. Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008 at age forty-six, was the most promising and accomplished writer of his generation. An athlete of prolixity, he published a celebrated novel of 1,100 pages called Infinite Jest, …

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Classless Action

March 1, 2010  | 

People like to call Bill Lerach names. The disgraced plaintiff’s lawyer, who in March will complete his two-year prison sentence for participating in an illegal kickback scheme, has been called a shakedown artist, a carjacker, an economic terrorist, pond scum, even the Anti-christ. In 1995, then Congressman and future SEC Chairman Chris Cox contended that …

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Unhappy Meals

February 1, 2010  | 

In his brilliant and distressing essay on the cruelties of English boarding school life in the 1910s, “Such, Such Were the Joys,” George Orwell devoted a few lines to the prevailing attitudes toward feeding children. A boy’s appetite was seen as “a sort of morbid growth which should be kept in check as much as …

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A Life of Contempt

November 14, 2009  | 

I began counting Ayn Rand’s uses of the word “contempt” on page 43 of The Fountainhead, by which point it had already appeared four times, and twice on that very page. The word shows up thirty-nine times more in the book, by my count, for a total of two score and three. Rand’s villains and …

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Radical Streak

May 1, 2009  | 

Leonard Bernstein took a lot of flak for his antics on the podium. Patrons of the New York Philharmonic at mid-century were either delighted or appalled to catch a glimpse of the “Lenny leap,” an uncouth maneuver that found the enthusiastic maestro a good foot in the air before a momentous downbeat. A newspaper critic complained …

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