MotherJones JF93: Back to the future

Hello. Or, hello again.

As one of the editors who founded Mother Jones seventeen years ago, I am thrilled to be back. A few of you may remember the last cover story I did for the magazine, a 1980 piece entitled "Reagan's First Four Years." The article was an analysis of what might happen if the man then leading in the Republican primaries were elected president. Among its key predictions: a chief executive whose charm would disarm an inattentive press and conceal his administration's politics of resentment; an unprecedented peacetime military buildup; a rise in the national debt; a subtle, Malthusian use of unemployment to curb inflation; a sudden military intervention in Central America to claim hemispheric prerogatives; an increase in dependence on Middle East oil, which would lead to an overwhelming display of American force in that region (demonstrating to the world that the U.S. was the only true superpower); and a Rehnquist Court, which would expand the power of property while eroding the rights of individuals. Although some of the details that fleshed the story out proved wrong, the nightmare did come to pass. In the years I've been away (most recently investigating Star Wars), Mother Jones, under Doug Foster's leadership since 1987, has been steadfast in its exposure of the social and economic damage inflicted by the Reagan and Bush regimes. A thousand points of knife, slipped nastily into the body politic.

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As much as we all suffered from the failure of Carter's presidency, however, I fear that if Clinton fails, the consequences next time (an ugly nativism?) will be even worse. That's why we at Mother Jones are rooting for Clinton's success. To that end, this magazine will try to serve as his conscience.

Conscience, according to my handy dictionary, derives from the Latin word conscire, meaning to know well. We intend to know the Clinton administration well, and to do our best to help it restore this country's moral purpose. We'll be both the president's wake-up call and a still, small voice within. As a nation we must recognize that our primary obligation shouldn't be to ourselves or our president, but to those in pain around us and to the generations that will follow us. Any time that Bill slicks off this course, Mother Jones will be quick to censure him.

During its years in honest, honorable, lonely opposition, Mother Jones didn't feel it could afford the luxury of self-examination. Now that there is a chance for our voice to be heard, it is crucial that we be willing to test our beliefs against the full range of public opinion. As soon as you turn the page, you'll be faced with such a test. I plan to invite into the Backtalk section of each issue a harsh critic who will scrutinize our ideas, forcing us to examine ourselves.

Another new feature you'll notice taking shape in this and future issues: A major photo story by a literate photographer and an observant writer. This month's "The Balkan Tribe" provides a window on a world that's simultaneously becoming more interwoven and more tribal. How can we preserve our individual (racial, religious, sexual...) identities without ripping apart the fabric of our common humanity?

Each issue will also include a pullout. The one you'll find this month, based on exhaustive research by the Council on Economic Priorities, identifies some of the worst polluters in the country. In the March/April issue we'll diagram Clinton's top financial contributors and what returns they'd like to see on their investments; after that, we'll show kids how to shop for a better world. We hope you'll use these tools to isolate the retrograde and reward the virtuous.

As we go to press, we're planning to prerelease Stephen Pizzo, Mary Fricker, and Kevin Hogan's expose on the Justice Department's shredding of documents that may incriminate officials in the Reagan and Bush administrations. In an attempt to stop the eradication of a twelve-year record of corruption and deceit, we are petitioning the National Archivist for an emergency investigation. Those in the press, the Congress, and the incoming administration who remain complacent should be judged complicit. The Justice Department must be brought into court, where the public can see all the evidence.

In subsequent issues, contributors to Mother Jones (and, I hope, letter writers such as yourselves) will debate what it means to be a progressive today. By having these debates, we intend to place this magazine at the forefront of a progressive movement that will help lead the United States into the twenty-first century.

If we fail, it won't be for want of trying.