Yet this here big-solution, deep-thinking magazine has the nerve to call itself The American? Bah! Forget the looonnnng stories about Hong Kong and medical innovation. Where are the mud flaps? Toby Keith? Childhood obesity? Johnny Appleseed would be pissed.
My NASCAR-and-chaw leanings aside, I'm not here to evaluate any magazine on its political agenda -- and The American, produced by the folks at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, clearly has one. No, I'm just going to wonder why, in this era of online insta-reaction and citizen journalism (insert disbelieving giggle here), any organization would waste its time on "a magazine of ideas."
It wouldn't appear to make much sense financially. While readers can take or leave a publication based on their own interests, I'd guess that many advertisers wouldn't have much use for a left- or right-leaning entity -- or at least not one without substantial reach -- under any circumstances. To me, the ideal venue for everything in The American is the Web. To the mag's credit, it boasts a bang-up site and doesn't bully print readers to check it out via reminders on every page.
The March/April issue doesn't skimp on the effort. Each of its main features approaches ten pages in length, with big honkin' margins but little in the way of graphic frippery. Even as a guy who spends more time reading Baseball Prospectus than Andrew Sullivan or Monsieur Daily Kos, I recognize the bylines of most of The American's contributors. They're a well-regarded, enormously thoughtful group.
So how come their American stories are so dull? The piece on SEC prexy Chris Cox dilly-dallies between flimsy biography and intense analysis; the writer should've chosen one approach and run with it. "Everything You Wanted to Know About Medicare But Were Afraid to Ask" doesn't give the crisp, concise answers that a story with such a title should endeavor to provide. The feature on collectibles as investment assets presents a premise (that such items can prove very valuable over time) and just as quickly rejects it (that most of 'em don't).
"Second Thoughts on Breasts," oddly dumped under the subject heading of "Americana," has something or other to say about silicon implants and investors, but after two readings I'm still not sure what. The "Geopolitics" look at the history of Persia/Iran-versus-everybody adds little that anyone even vaguely familiar with the history of the Middle East doesn't already know.
As for the mag's New Orleans expedition, which weakly argues that the media has misrepresented the current state of affairs, let's just say that it's time for editors to sic their wordiest writers on a different city. Anything -- a Palm Sunday gift guide, a behind-the-scenes look at the next iteration of "The Bachelor," anything at all -- that prevents another rebirth-of-New-Orleans story from seeing the light of day will be met with huge cheers from these quarters. I hear Detroit is pretty well screwed nowadays -- get on that, will you?
I also have a problem with The American's everything's-super! thrust. The current era of medical information is described as "tremendous," though much of the rest of the story surveying it doesn't necessarily support that blanket characterization. The new wave of eye implants that might stall or reverse blindness is "pretty spectacular"; the look at the Michelin restaurant review book thingie ends with "Viva le Guide!" Any critical reader, whether conservative or liberal, should be troubled by the mag's often pat conclusions.
Design-wise, The American makes up in clarity what it lacks in imagination, a few bizarre quirks (blocked H.I.O. letters in the bottom corner of several pages, with "Health Information Outlook" running alongside them vertically in a range of gobbledy-gook fonts) notwithstanding. But let's face it: nobody's reading a "magazine about ideas" for its graphic presentation. If the stories don't hold up to scrutiny, such a title is basically worthless. And thus I paraphrase one of the great satires of this generation and proclaim: The American? F*ck, no.