The slow pace of argument in quarterly magazines, the lag between the latest political news and our commentary on it, is sometimes a disadvantage, but not always. This spring it protects us against the sin of early disillusionment. President Barack Obama had barely gone to work when liberals and leftists around the country began expressing their disappointment with his policy proposals and appointees. He is indeed a centrist Democrat, but after eight years of rule from the far right, the center looks like—in fact, it is—an opening to the left. And we are still buoyant about this opening. Given our lead time, it may be that our writers don’t know the bad news. But I think that buoyancy is the politically correct position. It is a time for radical arguments about democracy and equality, and it doesn’t matter that radicalism isn’t (yet) the ruling ideology; it doesn’t matter that we will lose some political battles (but not the way we lost them in the years after 2000). We have a chance to make noise and to be heard. The articles in this issue about unionization, reforming NAFTA, universal health care, and the future of the auto industry are a beginning; there is more to come in the Summer issue.
We haven’t forgotten how to worry, as David Greenberg and Margaret O’Brien Steinfels demonstrate in their discussions of political campaigning and coalition politics. But they also understand that negative campaigns and contention within “big tents” are normal features of democratic politics. A magazine like Dissent can’t be a defender of post-partisanship. We may not be professional revolutionaries anymore, but we do make a profession of fierce argument. Alix Rule demonstrates this commitment as she criticizes the new forms of philanthropy, which make wealthy individuals and powerful corporations the shaping forces of what should be public policy, democratically determined.
In the last issue, we carried six articles on “getting out”—historical studies of the withdrawals of imperial or occupying powers: the British from the American colonies and from India, the French from Algeria, the United States from the Philippines and from Vietnam—and not from Korea. In this issue, David Bromwich, Brendan O’Leary, and George Packer write about getting out of Iraq (and Nicolaus Mills provides an account of how we got in). Bromwich is focused chiefly on why we have to get out, O’Leary and Packer on how to do it without leaving a disaster behind. These articles, with some others, will soon appear in book form.
Please note our new internal design by Arlene Putterman, which, along with the Winter issue’s new cover, marks the beginning of our relationship with the University of Pennsylvania Press, now the publisher of Dissent.