Because I received such an impassioned* response to my last review, in which I waxed snotty about the conservative monthly Newsmax, I decided in the interest of fairness to focus this week on its liberal counterpart. Unfortunately, that magazine doesn't exist.
The fact is, liberal magazines -- like liberals themselves -- are way too keen on being smarter than everyone else to publish a magazine as poorly written or blatantly one-sided as Newsmax. Every left-wing publication I could find, from Mother Jones to The Progressive to The Nation, consisted primarily of long, soporific essays filled with smarty-pants words like "soporific." So I decided to go with The American Prospect, a magazine, that despite its high-minded approach, wears its political blinders no less proudly -- or snugly -- than Newsmax. What it lacks in swagger it more than makes up for in elitism.
The January/February American Prospect is a special "After Bush" issue, kind of like "After M.A.S.H.," except the war keeps going. The issue offers guidance to the Democrats on how they can "change the country and save the planet" should they make it into the White House (stop laughing). The issue is divided into 10 essays, the average length of which I'd say is 5,000 words, each tackling a specific policy arena: Former labor secretary (and American Prospect co-founder) Robert Reich tackles taxes and the budget; senior correspondent Chris Mooney writes about climate change; staff writer Ezra Klein weighs in on healthcare; and co-editor Robert Kuttner conducts an insanely long Q&A about presidential leadership with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. (With apologies to Judd Apatow, you know how you know you're a liberal? You think Doris Kearns Goodwin is hot.)
For the most part the essays are well written, passionately argued and impressively researched. Prospect's writers tend to take the long view, dipping deep into American history to put an issue in perspective before recommending a course of action. For example, Klein doesn't just revisit the 1994 Clinton debacle when writing about healthcare reform, but goes all the way back to Harry Truman. Hence the essay is more then persuasive, it's enlightening.
I found the Q&A with Goodwin particularly compelling. Yes, it goes on a bit too long, but it's easy to understand why. Goodwin's command of American history is remarkable, as is her ability to abstract from it timeless truths about our country and ourselves. She also manages to graciously ignore the loaded questions of her rabidly left-wing interviewer in favor of nonpartisan answers.
Though to tell the truth, the whole magazine is not as predictably left-wing as one might suspect. The Clintons are disparaged and Reagan is praised, each more than once. Heck, even George W. Bush is given credit on page 19, however begrudgingly, for being a man who sticks to his principles, whatever those may be. (I'm pretty sure they have something to do with clearing brush.)
But the typical liberal pitfalls do detract from the overall experience. Worst of all is the unyielding pessimism. Nearly every essay starts off by painting a picture of modern-day America so morbid I found myself envying the North Koreans. Reich could easily substitute the first 500 words of his essay with "the sky is falling" repeated 125 times and nobody would notice.
The pub is also unnecessarily long-winded. With the exception of a few items, each piece would probably benefit from a good swipe of the red pen. Sometimes Prospect feels less like a magazine and more like a homework assignment.
And lastly, its elitism occasionally reveals a repugnant snobbery. For example, in a short item about the primaries, Prospect argues that caucuses only work in places like Iowa, "where people genuinely have nothing better to do." Apparently this guy has never heard of the meth epidemic.
But those problems aside, Prospect is definitely a worthy read -- if you have lots and lots of time to spare. It may not have funny little graphics like Newsmax, or get your blood boiling at quite the same rate, but it does leave you smarter than it found you. Which if you're a liberal like me, is nicer than a hot Goodwin on a cold Christmas (sorry, X-mas) morning.
*Yes, six comments counts as "impassioned." This ain't Deadspin, people.
Published by: The American Prospect, Inc.
Frequency: Monthly, except February and August