Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Weekly Standard at 10

Peter Carlson celebrates ten years of The Weekly Standard in today's Washington Post:
Without a doubt, the most important idea yet advanced by the Standard came in the essay 'Saddam Must Go,' written by Kristol and Robert Kagan and published in November 1997. The idea was: Hey, let's invade Iraq, conquer Baghdad and overthrow Saddam Hussein for expelling American weapons inspectors.

At the time, nobody paid much attention to the suggestion. But five years later, President Bush dusted off the idea and ordered the Pentagon to execute it. And, as we all know now, it worked perfectly.

Or maybe not. You make the call.
I mixed feelings on this anniversary, since my own Weekly Standard memories are bubbling up, and I am certainly no longer a neoconservative, if I ever had been tending that way. In fairness, Bill Kristol has always been nice to me. When I last saw him, at the Kennedy Center revival of Gian Carlo Menotti's opera, The Consul, he was perfectly friendly. And from time to time I link to some interesting articles they have online. So my perspective on this anniversary illustrates the cliche that success has a thousand fathers.

A decade ago, I actually discussed the prospect of a new conservative magazine with Bill Kristol. At the time, the National Review published bi-weekly, so by the time it arrived the articles were often out of date. Commentary was a monthly, so really couldn't deal with breaking news. Bill's father had a couple of publications that were also slow to appear, namedly the Public Interest and the National Interest. Even David Horowitz's Heterodoxy was a monthly. On the other hand, The Nation and New Republic came out weekly. Therefore, they seemed to have a timeliness that conservative magazines lacked. So I suggested that any new magazine should not be a monthly or a bi-weekly, but come out weekly, to give liberal journals of opinion a run for their money. He said nothing, but when it came out, it was "The Weekly Standard." Of course, others might have had similar ideas.

The second point I made, and this may have been to someone else involved in the early days, regarded the so-called "back of the book". At the time there was reportedly a debate among the founders, over whether there should be any cultural coverage at all--or just policy oriented serious news and analysis. I believed the back of the book was the most important part of any magazine, that many readers of the New Republic or the Nation read the book reviews, movie reviews, and art reviews, even when they weren't interested in a political question. Since there was a shortage of respectable places that would, for example, review conservative books, or art exhibits, or films, I thought the new publication might provide such a venue. Again, the magazine ended up with a substantial back-of-the-book section, that Peter Carlson called "consistently literate, readable and intelligent. Its cultural essays are excellent." Again, I'm sure I wasn't the only one with this idea, just that I weighed in, as a kibitzer, at an early stage.

Carlson praises writers Andrew Ferguson and Matt Labash, and I have a story there, too. I had my first contact with Ferguson when he was researching an article about Bill Moyers, before I came to Washington. He interviewed me on the phone. Later, he would call from time to time when he was doing a story, as would other Weekly Standard writers. Ferguson is a former speechwriter for President Bush (41) and a funny guy. So, when my PBS book came out, and no review appeared in the Weekly Standard, I called him. Oh, he said and paused, and then added something like, so many books come out, we can't review them all...

I cancelled my subscription.