It Takes a Village

Lurking amidst Ben Smith’s profile of Jane Hamsher is this quote from Glenn Greenwald:

“I think Jane’s success in a prior career has made her immune to the rewards of access — and fear of punishment — which keep most younger inside-the-Beltway progressives obediently in line,” he said. “She’s not 26 years old and desperate to work for a DC think tank, a Democratic politician or a progressive institution. She doesn’t care in the slightest which powerful people dislike her, but rather sees that reaction as vindication for what she’s doing.”

That line rubbed me the wrong way and I tweeted something snarky about it. It seemed to me that Greenwald was saying that the only way to be a true progressive activist is to be independently wealthy, and thus able to thumb your nose at the powers that be. Having discussed it with Glenn and re-read the item, I think a better characterization is just to say that Hamsher is a valuable voice because her unusual background and entrance into the political world gives her a non-typical perspective.

Which I agree with. But still the quote as stands reads to me a bit like Greenwald is saying that one of the main problems with the United States of America is that we have too many idealistic twentysomethings who want to move to DC and get jobs where they can make a difference on issues they care about. I’m pretty sure that’s not what he means, and I agree with a lot of the general critique that there’s a sort of sociopathic culture in Washington at the nexus of campaign operatives, Hill staff, lobbyists, and big-time political reporters. But to stand up a bit for the proverbial 26 year-old (I’m 28 thank you very much!) it’s also true that for most people who are passionate about political causes, there’s no viable alternative than trying to get a job for a formal political institution of some kind. This does put you in a somewhat compromised position. Even the very best of organizations are limited, pushed, and constrained by the need for — for example — money. And yet it’s hard for me to believe that we’d somehow be better off with no CAP/AF, no AFL-CIO, no ACLU, no Human Rights Watch, no SEIU, no Media Matters and all the rest, even if there may be some very legitimate problems with some or all of these institutions.