With uncharacteristic staying power the American national gaze this past year has been directed almost entirely outward, at events as they have developed uncertainly around the world—in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Israel and Iraq, in North Korea, in Southeast Asia, and even in a Europe increasingly uncomfortable with the assertive role that the United States is playing. But as any observer of American politics and society well knows, this won't last. Sooner or later public attention will return, as it always does, to the country's social bedrock, domestic affairs, where there is much unfinished business.
Under ordinary circumstances one obvious opportunity for a shift of focus would present itself later this month, when President George W. Bush delivers the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. But if the Republican strategy in the most recent election campaign is any guide, the President will continue to train his sights, and the country's, mainly on the confrontation with Iraq, the war against terrorism, and America's role in the world. No significant shift toward domestic affairs is likely—as Nick Calio, the White House's chief legislative liaison, in essence admitted during an interview with National Public Radio this past December. When asked about the amount of attention that the Bush Administration, given its international preoccupations, will be able to devote to the domestic agenda in 2003 (and whether, indeed, there would be any "air" left for it at all), Calio was not encouraging. "There is always room or air left for a domestic agenda," he said noncommittally.
Our cover feature this month, "The Real State of the Union," is dedicated to examining the situation at home. Collected in this issue are more than a dozen nonpartisan assessments of major aspects of the nation's domestic health, together with specific and practical suggestions for improvement. In looking to enlist a group of imaginative writers and thinkers, The Atlantic forged a partnership with the New America Foundation (www.newamerica.net)— a nonprofit public-policy think tank based in Washington, D.C., that since its inception, in 1999, has been devoted to bringing "exceptionally promising new voices and new ideas to the fore of our nation's public discourse." The Atlantic's national correspondent James Fallows chairs the foundation's board. Using what it describes as a venture-capital approach, New America aims to invest in creative young public-policy writers who can help to address the "dearth of new thinking on both sides of the political divide" and, in so doing, can spark a robust debate on the challenges that face the country. The foundation puts a premium on innovative and independent-minded analysts whose ideas don't tilt predictably to one side or the other of the traditional left-right spectrum. Because of the unconventionality of their thinking, such writers often have no obvious patrons and platforms for their work—a situation New America seeks to remedy by offering one-year fellowships that include generous stipends, office space, health insurance, and research and editorial assistance.
Ted Halstead, the thirty-four-year-old founder and president of the New America Foundation, is no stranger to The Atlantic. He has written two cover stories for this magazine. The first, co-authored with Jonathan Rowe and Clifford Cobb, was the widely cited "If the GDP Is Up, Why Is America Down?" (October 1995), which proposed a new way of measuring economic growth that would take account of environmental and other costs not normally factored into official reckonings. The second, "A Politics for Generation X" (August 1999), looked at the potentially enormous power of the hard-to-pigeonhole political views—largely ignored or dismissed by politicians and the media—that are held by the 50 million or so Americans born from 1965 to 1978. Halstead has signed on as New America fellows several writers who have also been contributors to The Atlantic over the years, and in keeping with the New America mission, he has encouraged the fellows to disseminate their views widely in the national media. The strategy has been remarkably successful. There is perhaps no think tank in the United States whose writers have a broader public reach.
The "State of the Union" feature is one that we hope to return to, in one form or another, each year.
WITH THIS ISSUE OF THE MAGAZINE we begin publishing two double issues a year—one in January/February, and one in July/August. Readers can expect that the amount and the variety of the writing that appears in the magazine will not change.