February 11, 2004: A moment with...

Photo by: Sigrid Estrada

Katrina vanden Heuvel ’81


Since 1995, Katrina vanden Heuvel ’81 has been the editor of The Nation, the oldest political weekly in the United States. A leading voice on the left, she is a frequent commentator in the press and on TV. Vanden Heuvel is coeditor of Taking Back America: The Progressive Challenge, which is due out this spring. She spoke with PAW’s Mark F. Bernstein ’83.

The Nation’s circulation has jumped since September 11. Why?

Actually, it’s risen about 50 percent since the selection of the president in 2000, to 160,000. One factor is opposition to the politics of the Bush administration, which has moved many to subscribe to a publication they might not otherwise have. But I also think it’s been frustration with the media, which have been at best timid – particularly since 9/11 – in posing questions to an administration that has manipulated and deceived the American people. If much of the media had been doing its job and not serving as stenographers to power, we might have been able to avert a war in Iraq, which was a war of choice, not of necessity. Also the fact that the media have become so conglomeratized, corporatized, “Murdoch-ized.” We are one of the few remaining independent publications, which I think gives us leeway to stand outside and raise larger questions.

What are some issues you think the mainstream media aren’t addressing?

How often do you see the idea of a living wage being addressed in the mainstream press? How often do you see the media address the fact that universal health care is a core human right and not some wacky left-wing idea? How often do you see any questions raised about the folly of the militarization of our foreign policy? How often do you see real reporting on how the pharmaceutical companies are writing our drug bills, the oil and gas industry is writing our energy bills, or corporate media are writing telecommunications law? But often it’s a matter of how the mainstream media address issues or a matter of who they use as sources, talking to corporate leaders, say, rather than workers.

What do you think of efforts by some to build a liberal radio network?

I care passionately about building a progressive infrastructure which would take a page from the playbook of the right wing without losing our values. We need to build an independent capacity to drive a politics of passion and purpose into the electoral arena, the media arena, and state, local, and national politics. Part of that is having media messengers with progressive values out there, speaking in a consistent way. I’m one of a very few progressives on those cable shows, unfortunately.

There has been talk that Ralph Nader ’55 may run again for president, which would split the anti-Bush vote. Would you support him?

Ralph could be Citizen Number 1 in this country based on all his work. But as Candidate Number 1, he has squandered enormous good will and credibility. It is important to try to build a third party in this country. But to do that, there are a whole series of reforms that have to be implemented at the national level. Until those reforms are implemented, I fear a third party is often a spoiler party. A Green Party building local capacity, on the other hand, has a role to play.

The Nation has strongly opposed the war in Iraq. Is there a role for U.S. military force in the world?

Of course there’s a role. But in going to war against Iraq, this administration was also going to war on behalf of the preemptive war doctrine, which is a radical departure from the core American tradition of acting in self-defense. The Nation is not a pacifist organization. We supported a limited, proportional military response in Afghanistan. But we are a magazine that believes there are limits to the use of military force in building a more just, democratic, and prosperous world, and I think we are seeing those limits now.

Were you politically active at Princeton?

I wasn’t that politically active while on campus, though I did publish an op-ed in the New York Times calling for energy independence through a tax on gasoline, and interned at The Nation as a junior. I arrived at Princeton with a great interest in politics. My father has been active in liberal Democratic politics for decades, so as someone who is both pragmatic and visionary, he had a strong influence on my political thinking. I was also fortunate to work with some extraordinary professors, and through them became interested in those who challenged orthodoxy and consensus and came to value those Americans who had had the courage of their convictions. I also came to value the importance of studying historical and political alternatives. You could say I became an “alternativist.”

Can you give a liberal definition of patriotism?

I believe that patriotism is fighting for the values of your country that you believe make it better, stronger, fairer, and more just. The best defense of patriotism is often a dissenting voice, an unyielding defense of those values and liberties that have made the country strong.


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