As Paul and Steve announced yesterday, I am taking on the daunting task of succeeding Mr. Benen at Political Animal. I read every single comment following Steve’s announcement of his new gig, and am awe-struck by the devotion he has inspired from a very well-informed readership.
I hope you will assess my work on its own terms. I can’t duplicate Steve’s style (or probably, his daily word-count) and won’t continue his signature features; for one thing, I want to pay him the courtesy of letting him take them along to his new digs if he so desires. We have somewhat different backgrounds (I’ll get to that in a moment), though our basic points of view on politics and policy are entirely congruent.
What definitely won’t change is the basic mission of this blog: to help guide busy people through the political news of the day, not just with links and quotes but with value added. Like Steve, I hope to identify developments you might have missed, and if not, to give you insights or perspectives you might not find elsewhere, certainly not in one place. By training and inclination, I am less a reporter or a wonk (though I have been both) than an analyst, someone who likes to synthesize large quantities of information into what matters most.
Some of you may be familiar with my work elsewhere (at The New Republic, The Democratic Strategist, Salon, or the Monthly) or checked out my guest-blogging stint here in December. But Paul has asked that I explain my background, so just this one time, here’s a brief bio:
I am a native of the Deep South, spending most of my childhood and early adulthood in Georgia, attending public schools and living a normal white middle-class life, though I had the special advantage of two parents who hated bigotry and valued independent thinking. After college and a major in an interdisciplinary humanities program we called the “pre-unemployment curriculum,” I spent two years in dead-end jobs before panicking and going to law school, and then stumbled into my first political post as a federal-state relations liaison for the governor of Georgia. That’s what first brought me to the Emerald City of Washington, and taught me about the peculiar culture of Congress and federal agencies.
After backing the wrong horse in a subsequent governor’s race, I spent a few years in State Agency exile, which exposed me to economic development and state-local relations work (of greater value later than I then imagined). After my boss chilled my bones by telling me I had a fine career ahead of me as a state bureaucrat, I was anxious to reconnect with what I imagined to be the Big Time, at one point sending off an unsolicited (and unacknowledged) manuscript to my favorite publication, the Washington Monthly.
I eventually landed a job as speechwriter for the then-dominant political figure in my state, Sen. Sam Nunn, and from there went on to work for the Democratic Leadership Council (those troubled by or interested in that connection should read this post) and its undervalued think-tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, becoming the DLC policy director for a good while. There I wrote papers on an array of social policy issues; was responsible for daily op-ed-length institutional commentary; did a lot of training for state and local elected officials; helped edit Blueprint Magazine; got into blogging as the DLCer other bloggers didn’t hate; and on the side, ghosted a book for a presidential candidate. For fun, I joined the quadrennial band of volunteers who worked in the script and speechwriting shop at Democratic Conventions (six at this count). And then for a variety of personal and professional reasons, I packed up, moved to Central California, became the managing editor of a fine website of political analysis called The Democratic Strategist, and dabbled in all sorts of free-lance writing.
At this point, attentive readers might be thinking: God, this guy is old for a blogger. I will admit that of the many indignities recently inflicted by Sen. Joe Lieberman, the one I took most personally was his casual destruction of the Medicare buy-in option for people in their fifties during the health reform debate. But I’m definitely young at heart (viz. my taste in music, which draws me to those periodic revivals of the punk tradition). And while I admire and envy prodigies who come out of Harvard with high hosannas and began instantly counseling the nation, there should be some room in the chattering class for those who have spent evenings explaining the federal budget process to Rotary Club audiences in rural Georgia, or worked the graveyard shift in a potato chip factory.
In sum, I hope my wandering path to this job will help bring a unique perspective to daily commentary, without any entitled old-white-guy attitude or inability to absorb new information and rethink assumptions. I’m just as excited by politics and policy as I was when I first stayed up far past my bedtime to watch election returns, or first glimpsed the Capitol, or first read the Washington Monthly and found kindred souls who believed government could actually be made useful.
So that’s my self-introduction. I’m very happy to be here. Now I’ll get to work.
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