The Editor's Page

With this issue The Atlantic moves into its 120th year of publication. The occasion will not electrify a public preoccupied with more momentous events, but it is nonetheless a matter for some glass-clinking in these disheveled chambers and toasting of those whose faith, curiosity, loyalty have borne this magazine well into its second century of publication. Thank you, readers past. Thank you, readers present; may you thrive and multiply.

We do not want to make too much of a mere 120th year, not in America’s own Bicentennial year, but urge only that you enjoy the modest repast offered in this 1429th issue. For one thing, we introduce a new type of American, the um. Many of you have met an um or two. Some of you will recognize him or her as a member of the family. The um is an offspring of the wave of liberation or, if you prefer, permissiveness that swept the country in the sixties and early seventies. The ums have been with us for several years, but have not been socially categorized before now. In his sweeping study in this issue, “After the Sexual Revolution,” Benjamin DeMott, a professor of English at Amherst, critic, novelist, and regular contributor to The Atlantic, tells about the ums and about the state of such institutions as marriage and the family, about fidelity and adultery, porn and the socalled swinging life.

The fixing of the um into proper place in the social science spectrum came about at the bibulous end of a dinner in a local saloon one night a few months ago when DeMott and another Atlantic contributor, Thomas Griffith, were brought together for the first time. DeMott, preparing for his tour around the country for this month’s article, spoke of the young adult who becomes a member of one’s family without benefit of marriage or legal adoption. It was Griffith who dropped the apple of inspiration on DeMott’s frontal lobe. “Most of the parents I know call them ‘our daughter’s’ or ‘our son’s um,’ ” said Griffith in what at first was taken to be his habitual mumble. But he was speaking plain, it became evident after yet another bottle of Beaujolais, and that is how, as Kipling would say, the um got its name.

Tom Griffith makes his own contribution to the birthday issue with a forthright “Party of One” column dealing with one of this country’s most serious afflictions, the refusal of voters to vote. Those who are eligible but fail to vote fall into his category of bad citizens. Before this issue of the magazine has run its month’s course, we will know how many there are. A nonpartisan advance study predicts that as many as 70 million qualified voters, nearly half the eligible population, will stay at home on November 2! Griffith would impose on such civic nonparticipants one simple punishment, which is yours to know when you turn to page 34.

As for civic participation, Sanford Ungar, our Washington editor, spent many days before and during the Republican convention studying one zealous champion of the two-party system who might have engineered the nomination of Ronald Reagan but didn’t (see page 8). And Andrew Ward presents (beginning on page 24) a presidential nominee who is not exactly a household name. He may even get several thousand votes (of the approximately 50 million needed to win). On the lighter side, if there is a lighter side to a subject labeled “political morality,” a political scientist who prefers to be pseudonymous suggests (see page 104) how we can get the sort of First Family we think we deserve without even amending the Constitution.

So much for politics this month. For those of you yearning to get away from it all, there is a voyage to Micronesia and into the life of a man who can achieve without benefit of eyesight feats that most of us could not achieve with x-ray vision. An article by Tracy Kidder about a plan that may save Long Island from the bulldozers—and may prove the inspiration for other land-protection programs elsewhere. A glimpse of life in postFranco Spain; the first published short story by a promising young writer; a trio of new poems; a considered second look at the new Encyclopaedia Britannica; and the usual liberal helping of reviews and criticism.

Now on to the 1430th issue, the 1431st. and ad, we hope, infinitum.