For years, the Washington press corps has been telling us that our medical delivery system was antiquated and unable to meet the needs of its 21st century customers. The journalists of the legacy media frequently suggested that opposition to a government-imposed solution to this very real problem was rooted in ignorance, irrational fear of change, or venality. Over the past several days, we have had the opportunity to observe some of these people react to a similar upheaval in their own industry, and the response has been instructive. Oddly enough, they have exhibited a surprising affinity for the status quo.
This ironic attitude was revealed when the management of the New Republic announced some unexpected personnel, location, and format changes. These unpleasant surprises were delivered at the behest of 30-year-old Facebook billionaire Chris Hughes, who bought the hoary liberal publication two years ago and eventually concluded that its shrinking readership is due to dull content produced by editors and writers he “came to think of as ‘spoiled brats.’” His assessment was vindicated on Friday morning when a significant percentage of the magazine’s staff threw a collective tantrum and resigned en masse.
Conspicuous among the resignations was that of Senior Editor Jonathan Cohn, who has frequently pontificated about the need for the American health care industry to change with the times. In one piece, for example, he wrote the following: “It will be tempting to judge Obamacare by comparing it to the status quo. But the status quo was changing already. Preserving it was simply not an option.” Yet, when Chris Hughes said essentially the same thing about TNR’s business model, and followed up with a couple of management changes pursuant to that reality, Cohn decided to quit.
Cohn avers that the status quo is “not an option” for U.S. health care, but evidently believes that it is an option for a publication that was founded when Woodrow Wilson was President. Even Ezra Klein isn’t this myopic. In a post titled, “Even the liberal New Republic needs to change,” he wrote: “The New Republic was (sic) has already died. The eulogy that needs to be written isn’t for The New Republic … It’s for the role once played by Washington’s small fleet of ambitious policy magazines.” Or, in the less reverential terms employed by Chris Hughes, TNR and its staff have become dinosaurs.
Not that the New Republic has remained true to its original mission as a “policy magazine.” It has long since devolved into a mere purveyor of left-wing canards. As Martin Peretz, its former owner, wrote in the Wall Street Journal last year: “The New Republic has abandoned its liberal but heterodox tradition and embraced a leftist outlook as predictable as that of Mother Jones or the Nation.” Even worse, in his view, it has become a megaphone for the Obama White House: “The president is an object of fealty at the New Republic in a way that Woodrow Wilson and even Franklin Roosevelt never were.”
But, even if they had remained true to its roots, TNR’s staff couldn’t have avoided change. And it was nothing more than disruption of the status quo that led to their exodus. Jonathan Chait, who has demanded to be removed from magazine’s list of contributing editors, wrote the following about Obamacare early this year: “People get far more angry at the possible harm from any change than any corresponding excitement that can be mustered. Loss aversion shaped the entire structure of the Affordable Care Act.” And yet he, like Cohn, is unable to see that it is this very dynamic that we are seeing at TNR.
Clive Crook cuts through the pompous balderdash written by Chait and others about the death of a “vital American institution”: “Let me see if I understand. The owner of TNR had his own plans for the title, and these didn’t include the present editor. What astonishing presumption.” Alluding to the Obama agenda so abjectly supported by the New Republic, Jim Geraghty puts it thus: “For fans of TNR and its contributors, who feel like they’re watching a beloved institution… get taken over by a bunch of irresponsible, arrogant, smug, habitually dishonest radicals… millions of Americans know exactly how you feel.
Indeed we do. Moreover, it’s safe to say that the few Americans who actually know about the New Republic’s latest travails probably feel more sympathy for TNR’s employees than they felt for us when Obamacare and countless other bad ideas were shoved down our throats. Most Americans know that change is hard, particularly for people who have led sheltered lives, removed from the exigencies of existence in the real world. Few would even think of writing off their angst to mere stupidity, neurosis, or greed.