Reflections of an Affirmative-Action BabyWhite men from fancy schools advanced quickly at the New Republic. Asking how much of their success was due to race, gender, and class would have meant asking the same of myself.PETER BEINART 11:38 AM ET CULTUREMr. Beinart is reticent about spelling out what sexual preference of Marty Peretz’s made TNR into a sexual hothouse. Granted, Marty, the owner, liked to marry heiresses. But he took a profound, almost what you’d call Ancient Athenian interest in mentoring bright young men, presumably platonic. Also, it really helped if the bright young men loved Israel almost as ardently as Marty did, which put a bit of an ethnic tilt on things. As I reported in 2008:
In 1991, the African American Yale Law School professor Stephen Carter wrote a book called Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby. I remember reading part of it at the time. Little did I realize that the book’s title applied to me.Two years after Carter published his book, I joined the New Republic as a summer intern. I was thrilled. I had been reading the magazine since high school, and idolized its most prominent writers: Michael Kinsley, Hendrik Hertzberg, Andrew Sullivan, Michael Lewis, Michael Kelly, and, yes, Leon Wieseltier, who last month was accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen of his former colleagues. If someone had made TNR writers into baseball cards, by age 15 I would have had a complete set.I considered myself qualified. Because I’d spent years mimicking TNR’s writing style, I had the right sort of clips. But as a white man graduating from an Ivy League school, I also had the right sort of identity. It was difficult to disentangle the two. And I didn’t really try.… Asking how much of their success was due to race, gender, and class—as opposed to merit—would have meant asking the same of myself.At some level, I knew the answer. White men from fancy schools advanced quickly at the New Republic because that’s who the owner and editor in chief, Marty Peretz, liked surrounding himself with. He ignored women almost entirely. There were barely any African Americans on staff, which is hardly surprising given that in 1994—after my internship and before I returned to the magazine as managing editor—TNR published an excerpt of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s book, The Bell Curve (along with a series of critical responses). Marty felt a particular hostility to affirmative action. The irony—which I didn’t dwell on at the time—was that the magazine was itself a hothouse of racial and sexual preference.
It all started in 1965 when Al [Gore] was a 17-year-old [Harvard] freshman and Marty his 26-year-old political science professor. Bob Zelnick, Gore’s biographer, wrote:Beinart continues:
“Perhaps the most significant friendship Gore formed at Harvard was with his resident instructor, Martin Peretz …”Of course, the depths of Peretz`s passion can be exaggerated. After all, as late as 1968, Gore didn`t make Peretz`s all time Top Three list, according to radical muckraker Alexander Cockburn`s book Al Gore: A User`s Manual:“By 1968 Peretz was telling the late Blair Clark that `I have been in love only three times in my life. I was in love with my college roommate. I am in love with the state of Israel and I love Gene McCarthy.`”
Those racial and sexual preferences were never stated formally. But to a significant degree, they determined who felt comfortable at TNR and who won the favor of the people who ran it. To borrow Ta-Nehisi Coates’s metaphor, my race, gender, and class provided me a “tailwind.” I was running hard. But without that tailwind, it’s unlikely I would have become the magazine’s editor at age 28.Okay, but besides “racial” and the vaguely stated “sexual preferences,” did Marty have any “ethnic” biases as well? Or was Peretz simply a White Nationalist using TNR to promote the interests of the white race as a whole? My recollection from reading TNR was that Marty had a different bias, but why bring up old news in an article about an old magazine?
Like Carter, I was a beneficiary of affirmative action. Except that his version remedied historic injustices. Mine perpetuated them.The New Republic’s affirmative action enabled Leon Wieseltier’s sexual harassment, and Leon’s sexual harassment reinforced the magazine’s affirmative action. Men ran the magazine, and Leon’s behavior helped keep it that way. To ascend at TNR, you had to be a protégé of either Marty or Leon’s, or, at the very least, you had to be on decent terms with them. For men, that meant writing things they considered smart. For women, by contrast, mentorship was far trickier. Marty wasn’t an option.Would it be possible for Mr. Beinart to expand on the sentence “Marty wasn’t an option”? Why not? What if you were a young straight man who found Marty’s mentorship creepy?
In this regard, I suspect, I have something in common with the supporters of Donald Trump. It’s not pleasant to realize that the bygone age you romanticize—the age when America was still great—was great for you, or people like you, because others were denied a fair shot. In the America of the 1950s, or even the 1980s, white, straight, native-born American men didn’t worry as much about competing with Salvadoran immigrants and Chinese factory workers and professional women and Joshua-generation African Americans.It’s time to reveal that Marty Peretz at TNR was biased in favor of mentoring his Fellow Straight White Men.By the way, word counts from Beinart’s article say a lot about whom you are supposed to blame for the behavior of Peretz and Wieseltier:White – SixJewish – ZeroStraight – OneBisexual – Zero
PETER BEINART is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York.