Ever have the feeling that Republicans and Democrats are speaking different languages? The staff of The Nation is sure of it. With the help of thousands of readers who submitted entries on the magazine's Website, longtime Nation editor (and newly-named publisher) Katrina vanden Heuvel has written Dictionary of Republicanisms, a liberal take on the GOP. A sampler:
American idle, n. A president who spends half his time on vacation, goes to bed early every night, and brags about not reading newspapers.
Bill of Rights, n. Archaic document purported to state actual rights of all citizens; not currently used.
Clarify, v. To repeat the same lie over and over again.
We reached vanden Heuvel, between frequent cable TV talk-show appearances, at her office in New York:
Galley Girl: What is it like being out on the front lines of the political wars?
Katrina vanden Heuvel: It's the only place to be. These are not times for calm and complacency; these are times to be fully engaged in arguing, and laying out a different direction for this country.
GG: Are there personal consequences to being aggressive toward people in political power?
KVH: Part of the problem of our journalistic world in these last years has been that the Administration intimidated many journalists and journalistic institutions, and used fear to silence opposition or abused the real meaning of patriotism. I think one role for the Nation, as it should be for a free press in a democracy, is to continue to raise tough questions. That doesn't mean needless aggression; it means holding people in power accountable. If I had to single out one personal consequence, I would single out Rush Limbaugh. When the hurricane ravaged the Gulf Coasta hurricane sadly bearing my name, Katrinahe went on his radio show, and began calling it Hurricane Katrina vanden Heuvel. That comes because I think he sees me on Hardball, or he understands that I take positions and feel strongly and passionately about those. It seemed to me he was willing to do almost anything in a very personal and mean way, to discredit someone who just had very different opinions.
GG: There are arguments these days about what's patriotic. I'm curious whether you've ever been accused of not being patriotic for bringing the government into question.
KVH: What do you think? (Laughs.) I used to do CNN almost every week in the run-up to war. I was on one week with Armstrong Williams, who accused me of being un-American. I have been, and the Nation has been accused of being unpatriotic. I think it's from people who don't, in my view, understand the true meaning of patriotism. Republicans of conscience have spoken eloquently about this, too. Theodore Roosevelt once said "To announce that there should be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but it is morally treasonable to the American public." Now that's Roosevelt in 1918. If someone had just said that without mentioning Roosevelt, Dick Cheney would probably run that person out of town.
GG: Is it meaningful that you decided to hold the book party at a restaurant named Pravda?
KVH: In the Soviet Union, what was in Pravda, people read between the lines. They knew how to read between the lines for little nuggets. But it didn't mean truth. This history of playing with language has many fathers and mothers. I don't argue that lying and deceiving the American people is the unique province of Republicans, but I do think that Republicans have undertaken this decades-long campaign to control and abuse the language, to suit their political needs.
GG: You've benefited as a publication from the current political atmosphere, right?
KVH: We have. The magazine has doubled in circulation in the last five or six years. My hope is that some day soon, what is good for the Nation is good for the nation.
GG: Do you ever get invited to the White House?
KVH: I've never been invited to this White House, and I'm not holding my breath.