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Magazine Critiques Clinton’s Second Term

Summer’s over, the glitterati have taken wing from the Vineyard, Chelsea is safely off to Stanford, and the White House, The Washington Post reports, is once again engaged in trying to spin a grand tapestry from Bill Clinton’s threadbare presidency.

Enter The American Prospect, stage left. In the November-December issue, Robert Reich, Clinton’s former labor secretary, and Jeff Faux, president of the Economic Policy Institute, pen cogent critiques of the Democratic status quo. “How the debate is framed - what options are put before the public - makes all the difference,” writes Reich, who contends that Democratic (read: Clintonian) timidity has, in a few short years, telescoped the debate from the high purpose of whether to provide universal health care to a wrangle on Republican turf over how taxes should best be cut.

“At each step, the frame got smaller, the options less relevant, and the broad public less interested in the outcome,” Reich contends.

So why has the Democratic Party become so quiescent? Because its paladins don’t dare challenge the basic Reagan storyline that paints big government as the root of all evil with a compelling political narrative of their own, says Faux. But one exists, as Faux demonstrates.

Should the president put down his Elmore Leonard detective stories and pick up The American Prospect, he might just solve another mystery: how to impart some real meaning to his second term.

The October Vanity Fair features another of its chaste nudes - Nicole Kidman - on the cover, but by far the best article is H.G. Bissinger’s accounting of the collision of film fantasy and historical reality.

Bissinger’s subject is Henrich Harrer, the renowned Austrian adventurer whose exploits are soon to be celebrated in Brad Pitt’s film, “Seven Years in Tibet,” based on Harrer’s book of the same title.

Harrer, now 85, was a leader of a noted mountain-climbing team. In 1939, he left Austria to climb Nanga Parbat in Kashmir, only to find himself interned in a British prisoner-of-war camp in India when the war broke out. Escaping, Harrer trekked across the top of the world to arrive in Tibet, where he befriended the young Dalai Lama.

Despite Harrer’s having abandoned his wife and young son for seven years, Mandalay Entertainment has shot its ending in roseate hues. But the studio couldn’t do the same with Harrer’s real-life beginnings. With the filming well along, Austrian radio reporter Gerald Lehner discovered that Austria’s hero had been a member of Hitler’s SS - not necessarily an active member, and a member who had left Germany before World War II began and the worst of Hitler’s atrocities were visited on the world. Still, the evidence presents a fascinating question. Yes, all heroes have feet of clay, but how to regard an icon in old age who in youth sported a swastika on his lapel?

Elsewhere, Ann Louise Bardach provides an in-depth look into what has gone awry in the botched probe into the murder of child pageanteer JonBenet Ramsey. Bardach paints a picture of a district attorney’s office so incompetent it has lost control and a legal defense team so high-powered and well connected it is virtually dictating how the investigation will proceed.

Most signs point to the parents, who, having retained a top-notch PR team, have now launched their own search for the killer.

So will the murder ever be solved? Perhaps there’s hope, if only the family can retain the service of noted homicide sleuth Orenthal James Simpson. Once he concludes his current manhunt, that is.

If there were a prize for chutzpah, September’s laurels would rest squarely atop Boston magazine’s (mast)head. No sooner had word spread on the morning of Aug. 28 that U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II had called a press conference to quit the gubernatorial race than a Bo-mag editorial assistant called political reporters to announce the “real” reason Kennedy was bailing out: an in-depth article in the September Boston magazine about his brother Michael’s affair with his teenage baby sitter, supposedly chockablock with new revelations, was about to hit the stands.

Well, now it has. With the dullest of thuds. New revelations? Hardly a one. It’s mostly a well-written recapitulation of the stories reported in the Globe and the Herald, with some interesting details about the early business career of Paul Verrochi, father of the baby sitter. As for the contention that the Boston magazine story played any role in Kennedy’s decision? Several close Kennedy advisers told the Globe that is nonsense.

“What Is Risk?” Icon magazine asks on the cover of its October issue. In highly readable interviews, Icon lets risk-takers from Evel Knievel to Harry Wu to Joycelyn Elders to Kerri Strug tell what motivates them to do what they do (or did) and why. Icon also has a probing profile of filmmaker Oliver Stone, tracing him through his days as an imploded narcissist whose disappointed hopes as a novelist drove him to Vietnam as an infantry grunt courting (he claims) his own death to his emergence as one of America’s most noted filmmakers. A strong effort, the profile is well worth reading, as are several other features in this quirky, electic new magazine.

Why is risk on publisher David Getson’s mind? Because the October issue is only Icon’s third, and “the fact is something like 90 percent of all magazines die during their first year of publishing,” writes the 25-year-old Getson, who sold his car to get his magazine off the ground. Here’s hoping that Icon’s brave effort finds the reward it deserves.

Tags: Commentary