Liberalism wagers that a state... can be strong but constrained – strong because constrained... Rights to education and other requirements for human development and security aim to advance equal opportunity and personal dignity and to promote a creative and productive society. To guarantee those rights, liberals have supported a wider social and economic role for the state, counterbalanced by more robust guarantees of civil liberties and a wider social system of checks and balances anchored in an independent press and pluralistic society. – Paul Starr, volume 236, p. 21-24
Support for Israel has been another strong theme in the New Republic. According to Peretz, "Support for Israel is deep down an expression of America's best view of itself." According to CUNY journalism professor, Eric Alterman, “Nothing has been as consistent about the past 34 years of TNR as the magazine's devotion to Peretz's own understanding of what is good for Israel…It is really not too much to say that almost all of Peretz's political beliefs are subordinate to his commitment to Israel's best interests, and these interests as Peretz defines them almost always involve more war.
Unsigned editorials prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq expressed strong support for military action, citing the threat of WMD as well as humanitarian concerns. Since the end of major military operations, unsigned editorials, while critical of the handling of the war, have continued to justify the invasion on humanitarian grounds, but no longer maintain that Iraq's WMD facilities posed any threat to the United States. In the November 27, 2006 issue, the editors wrote:
At this point, it seems almost beside the point to say this: The New Republic deeply regrets its early support for this war. The past three years have complicated our idealism and reminded us of the limits of American power and our own wisdom.
The New Republic is very much against the Bush tax programs, against Bush Social Security 'reform,' against cutting the inheritance tax, for radical health care changes, passionate about Gore-type environmentalism, for a woman's entitlement to an abortion, for gay marriage, for an increase in the minimum wage, for pursuing aggressively alternatives to our present reliance on oil and our present tax preferences for gas-guzzling automobiles. We were against the confirmation of Justice Alito.
The magazine has also published two articles concerning income inequality, largely criticizing conservative economists for their attempts to deny the existence or negative effect increasing income inequality is having on the United States. In its May 2007 issue the magazine ran an editorial pointing to the humanitarian beliefs of liberals as being responsible for the recent plight of the American left. In another article TNR favorably cited the example of Denmark as evidence that an expansive welfare state and high tax burden can be consistent with, and in some ways contribute to, a strong economy. Such editorials and articles exemplify the liberal political orientation of TNR.
One consequence of World War I was the Russian Revolution of 1917, and during the inter-war years the magazine was generally positive in its assessment of the Soviet Union and its communist government. This changed with the start of the Cold War and the 1948 departure of leftist editor Henry A. Wallace to run for president on the Progressive ticket. After Wallace, TNR moved towards positions more typical of mainstream American liberalism. During the 1950s it was critical of both Soviet foreign policy and domestic anti-communism, particularly McCarthyism. During the 1960s the magazine opposed the Vietnam War, but was also often critical of the New Left.
Up until the late 1960s, the magazine had a certain "cachet as the voice of re-invigorated liberalism", in the opinion of Eric Alterman, a commentator who has criticized the magazine's politics from the left. That cachet, Alterman wrote, "was perhaps best illustrated when the dashing, young President Kennedy had been photographed boarding Air Force One holding a copy".
Harrison continued editing the magazine, expecting Peretz to let him continue running the magazine for three years. But by 1975, when Peretz became annoyed at having his own articles rejected for publication while he was pouring money into the magazine to cover its losses, he fired Harrison, and much of the staff, including Walter Pincus, Stanley Karnow, and Doris Grumbach, was either fired or quit, being replaced largely by recent Harvard graduates lacking in journalistic experience. Peretz himself became the editor and stayed in that post until 1979. As other editors have been appointed, Peretz has remained editor-in-chief.
Writers for the magazine during this era included neoliberals Mickey Kaus and Jacob Weisberg along with Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke, Sidney Blumenthal, Robert Kuttner, Ronald Steel, Michael Walzer, and Irving Howe.
During the 1980s the magazine generally supported President Ronald Reagan's anti-Communist foreign policy, including provision of aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. It has also supported both Gulf Wars and, reflecting its belief in the moral efficacy of American power, intervention in "humanitarian" crises, such as those in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo during the Yugoslav wars.
The magazine also became known for its originality and unpredictability in the 1980s. It was widely considered a "must read" across the political spectrum. An article in Vanity Fair judged TNR "the smartest, most impudent weekly in the country," and the "most entertaining and intellectually agile magazine in the country." According to Alterman, the magazine's prose could sparkle and the contrasting views within its pages were "genuinely exciting". He added, "The magazine unarguably set the terms of debate for insider political elites during the Reagan era."
With the less predictable opinions, more of them leaning conservative than before, the magazine won the respect of many conservative opinion leaders and 20 copies were messengered to the Reagan White House each Thursday afternoon. Norman Podhoretz called the magazine "indispensable", and George Will said it was "currently the nation's most interesting and most important political journal." National Review described it as "one of the most interesting magazines in the United States."
Credit for its quality and popularity was often assigned to Kinsley, whose wit and critical sensibility were seen as enlivening a magazine that had for many years been more conventional in its politics, and Hertzberg, a former writer for The New Yorker and speechwriter for Jimmy Carter.
Hertzberg and Kinsley not only alternated as editor but also alternated as the author of the magazine's lead column, "TRB from Washington". Its perspective was described as left-of-center in 1988.
A final ingredient that led to the magazine's increased stature in the 1980s was its "back of the book" or literary, cultural and arts pages, which were edited by Leon Wieseltier. Peretz discovered Wieseltier, then working at Harvard's Society of Fellows, and put him in charge of the section. Wieseltier reinvented the section along the lines of The New York Review of Books, allowing his critics, many of them academics, to write longer, critical essays instead of mere book reviews. Alterman calls the hire "probably [...] Peretz's single most significant positive achievement" in running the magazine. During other changes of editors, Wieseltier has remained as cultural editor. Under him the section has been "simultaneously erudite and zestful", according to Alterman, who adds, "Amazingly, a full generation later, it still sings."
Sullivan invited Charles Murray to contribute a controversial 10,000-word article that contended blacks may be, as a whole, less intelligent than whites due to genetics. The magazine also published a very critical article about Hillary Clinton's health care plan by Elizabeth McCaughey, an article that Alterman called "the single most influential article published in the magazine during the entire Clinton presidency". Sullivan also published a number of pieces by Camille Paglia.
Ruth Shalit, a young writer for the magazine in the Sullivan years, was repeatedly criticized for plagiarism. After the Shalit scandals, the magazine began using fact-checkers during Sullivan's time as editor. One was Stephen Glass, who would be found to have made up quotes, anecdotes and facts in his own articles, while he served as a reporter years later.
After Sullivan stepped down in 1996, David Greenberg and Peter Beinart served jointly as Acting Editors. After the 1996 election, Michael Kelly served as editor for a year. During his tenure as editor and afterward, Kelly, who also wrote the TRB column, was intensely critical of President Clinton.
Chuck Lane held the position between 1997 and 1999. During Lane's tenure, the Stephen Glass scandal occurred. Peretz has written that Lane ultimately "put the ship back on its course," for which Peretz said he was "immensely grateful." But Peretz later fired Lane, who only got the news when a Washington Post reporter called him for a comment.
Peter Beinart, a third editor who took over when he was 28 years old, followed Lane and served as editor from 1999 to 2006.
Franklin Foer took over from Beinart in March 2006. In the magazine's first editorial under Foer, it said "We've become more liberal … We've been encouraging Democrats to dream big again on the environment and economics [...]". Foer is the brother of novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything Is Illuminated (2002).
In 2005, TNR created its blog, called The Plank, which is written by Michael Crowley, Franklin Foer, Jason Zengerle, and other TNR staff. The Plank is meant to be TNR's primary blog, replacing the magazine's first three blogs, &c., Iraq'd, and Easterblogg. The Stump, TNR's blog on the 2008 Presidential Election was created in October 2007.
The magazine remains well known, with references to it occasionally popping up in popular culture. Lisa Simpson was once portrayed as a subscriber to The New Republic for Kids. Matt Groening, The Simpsons' creator, once drew a cover for TNR. In the pilot episode of the HBO series Entourage aired first on July 18, 2004, Ari Gold asks Eric Murphy: "Do you read The New Republic? Well, I do, and it says that you don't know what the fuck you're talking about."
In late February 2007, Peretz sold his share of the magazine to CanWest, which announced that a subsidiary, CanWest Media Works International, had acquired a full interest in the publication. Peretz retained his position as editor-in-chief.
The New Republic's average paid circulation for 2007 was 59,779 copies per issue, a decline of 41 percent since 2000.
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New Republic editor Michael Whitney Straight (1948 to 1956) was later discovered to be a spy for the KGB, recruited into the same network as Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, and Anthony Blunt. Straight's espionage activities began at Cambridge during the 1930s; he later claimed that they ceased during World War II. Later, shortly before serving in Kennedy administration, he revealed his past ties and turned in fellow spy Anthony Blunt. In return for his cooperation, his own involvement was kept secret and he continued to serve in various capacities for the US Government until he retired. Straight admitted to his involvement in his memoirs; however, subsequent documents obtained from the former KGB after the fall of the Soviet Union indicated that he drastically understated the extent of his espionage activities.
In July 2007, after The New Republic published an article by an American soldier in Iraq titled "Shock Troops," allegations of inadequate fact-checking were leveled against the magazine. Critics alleged that the piece contained inconsistent details indicative of fabrication. The identity of the anonymous soldier, Scott Thomas Beauchamp, was revealed. Beauchamp was married to Elspeth Reeve, one of the magazine’s three fact-checkers. As a result of the controversy, the New Republic and the United States Army launched investigations, reaching different conclusions.
As of December 1 2007, an article titled "The Fog of War" and bearing the byline of Franklin Foer, postdate December 10 2007, has been available for professional critique. In the article, Foer writes that the magazine can no longer stand behind the stories written by Beauchamp.
Before Wallace's appointment in 1946, the masthead listed no single editor in charge but gave an editorial board of four to eight members. Walter Lippmann, Edmund Wilson, and Robert Morss Lovett, among others, served on this board at various times. The names given above are the first editor listed in each issue, always the senior editor of the team.