This blog has been known to dip its toes into politics every once in a while, and you can follow my musings on American politics and lots of other stuff on Twitter, @queerlefty. This brief break from our regularly scheduled programming of homosexualized pop-culture-mongering, then, is meant to provide with a quick guide to the political pundits that most influence how I view American politics. Consider it something like an extension of What To Read, the almost-weekly segment of noteworthy essays and articles from around the web. As with WTR, you will notice that most of the people and publications mentioned here are of the center/left variety. Don’t shoot me, I’m a liberal.
Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post
If one political writer should be attributed with getting me to fall in love with American politics, this is the guy. I had subscribed to the Post’s newsletter for a long time when one day I discovered a link to his blog, The Fix. It was in December 2006, and my eyes set on a post about the expected roll-out of John Edwards’ second presidential campaign. I had been an Edwards supporter since he ran on the Kerry ticket in 2004, although I had not pursued my simmering interest in American politics any further. Apart from the timing – weeks later, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama declared – it was what the blog represented that sucked me in. You know when you’ve just discovered something you really love, and can’t stop obsessing over it? The Fix was like that for me. Insidery as it was, it required that I did some additional reading, which only furthered my interest, but that was a welcome part of the challenge.
Despite some nearly lethal forays into humor (Cillizza did a mind-numbingly unfunny video series with Dana Milbank, Mouthpiece Theater, but it was so bad and so desperately insensitive, the Post quickly cancelled it), and an at times over-eager instinct to worship the god of Politics as Perception (leading to such Beltway-fueled non-issues as ‘Lipstick on a pig‘ or the ‘Beer Summit‘), he is still one of my most important sources of political analysis. His Morning Fix feature summarizes stories large and small, and his coverage of the changing Senate landscape is always worth a read. Every Friday he has a ranking of political races or candidates that helps drive my perception of where the political winds are blowing.
John Dickerson, Slate Magazine
If Chris Cillizza was my magic key to American politics, Slate was my key to the American culture at large. It’s a wonderfully smart and sprawling web magazine, sporting former Time Magazine White House correspondent John Dickerson as its chief political reporter. He also hosts the weekley Political Gabfest podcast, alongside David Plotz and Emily Bazelon. Dickerson, too, can be beholden to the ever-emerging D.C. narrative (his favorite buzzword), but he has an engaging style that somehow feels authoritative without being authoritarian. Another plus for Dickerson vis-a-vis Cillizza is that his reporting is often oriented more toward fairness than Cillizza’s insistence on objectivity, a concept that though admirable in principle, can work to further partisan talking points if taken to its logical extreme. Dickerson is implicitly thought to be a liberal (writing for a liberal magazine, and sharing the Gabfest microphone with self-described liberals Plotz and Bazelon) but his own opinions can best be traced through the questions he asks or doesn’t ask. Never a bad quality for a journalist. Finally, he fits in surprisingly well with Slate’s personal and counterintuitive ethos and writing style.
Rachel Maddow, MSNBC
One consequence of the view of journalistic objectivity outlined above, is that I don’t necessarily think political news outlets are threatening our political climate. An objectivity in which the journalist’s sole responsibility is to present viewers or readers with the facts so that they can decide for themselves, without ever letting known hers or his own views, is one that has never had any basis in reality. Therefore, I prefer the sort of ideological honesty of someone like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. She’s a proud liberal, and she unabashedly admits to having a political agenda, which consists of turning the Democratic Party leftward. But unlike Keith Olberman, the star-blowhard of the left-leaning network, Maddow actually gives her guests a fair chance to defend their positions, and she consistently covers large and small issues that’s being overlooked in the mainstream press. Throughout last summer she stayed on the scandal involving Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada), and helped force him to answer questions about his ties to the conservative religious group The Family, and about having encouraged his former Chief of Staff to break the law. Her wish to drag Republicans through the mud does sometimes make her susceptible to jumping on their every little false step, and her pop culture stuff is not always terribly interesting, but generally, she’s an invaluable (and underrated) source of talking points from the left.
Glenn Greenwald/Joan Walsh, Salon
Staying on the left, Salon, Slate’s main rival, has two of the most interesting blogger-journalists around. Joan Walsh is Salon’s edior and has experience from the old socialist magazine In These Time, while Glenn Gleenwald was an attoney before he started blogging at Salon. Salon is more self-consciously left-leaning than Slate, but if you were to accuse Greenwald or Walsh of letting their politics get in the way of their reporting, you would immediately run into a slew of examples of them being just as hard on the at times spineless Democrats as they are against the GOP. Greenwald, in particular, has been a persistent critic of the Obama administration. His main interest is civil liberties issues, and he has repeatedly blasted the president for failing to deliver on his promises in this regard. His mile-long blog posts usually present a wall of links supporting his position, and he does a regular podcast in which he elaborates on points raised on his blog. Walsh has taken a more patient tone with the administration, something that among other things has placed her on the opposite side of Greenwald when it comes to the Democratic health care reform compromise. (Walsh supported the Senate compromise while Greenwald wanted it to get voted down). Like many other liberals, however, her patience is starting to wear increasingly thin.
The magazine that once advocated a Democratic Party more in the mold of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, now houses two of the most important and consistently engaging voices of the left, and on health care in particular. Both have been with the magazine for a long time, but the health care debate over the last year have forced them to take some steps leftward. Apart, perhaps, from Rachel Maddow, no one has been so important in forming my perceptions and opinions about the health care debate as these two. Both now says House Democrats should pass the Senate bill and then try to improve it afterward, through the so-called ‘budget reconciliation’ mechanism in the Senate. Cohn is a long-time blogger; Chait started a TNR blog last month. And their social media awesomeness doesn’t stop there: Both are active and interesting tweeters.
Ezra Klein, The Washington Post
This guy has everything: Not only does he combine a keen understanding of politics with a relentless willingless to delve into policy substance; he’s also by far the hottest pundit out there (there’s not much competition, to be sure, but still). Add to that that he is a frequent guest on Rachel Maddow’s show, and he’s pretty close to my ideal guy. Having learned the ropes at the policy-heavy, left-leaning American Prospect, he joined The Washington Post as a blogger late last year, and his blog quickly became a must-read. He is essential in the health care debate for many reasons, but to me, his defense of the Obama-backed excise tax (taxing expensive insurance plans) as a cost-control measure, was particularly interesting. Focus on cost-control has been curiously absent from much of the debate, although it would be important for the reform’s chances of survival both on policy and political grounds, but Klein, in addition to David Leonhardt of The New York Times, has done a good job keeping it out there.
Gail Collins, The New York Times
Gail Collins, a former editorial page editor at the Times, is like a funnier, less formulaic version of Maureen Dowd. She definitely is a keen observer of politics as usual, but unlike Dowd, she seems to be driven by a genuine wish for better government, not just by well-written cynicism. Times has plenty of silly rules to make their pundits seem non-partisan, and while Collins’ affinity for political absurdism allows her to take shots at both parties, there’s a certain moral sting to it whenever she directs her fire at Republican hypocrisy. Although her shtick begins and ends with humor (and her stock phrase ‘But we digress’, and the occasional political quiz), she is more of an opinionated journalist than Dowd has ever been. She would get on this list in any case, but it doesn’t hurt that she has taken to attacking the undemocratic filibuster rule in the Senate in her latest columns.
Ron Elving/Ken Rudin, NPR
Elving and Rudin host the very entertaining weekly podcast It’s All Politics every Thursday. Like Collins, the duo prove that supposedly (see above) non-partisan political punditry doesn’t have to be a bore. They’re educated and educational banter about the week in politics is a true treat, a mix of handicapping, historical parallels, sports metaphors and self-deprecation. A very clear focus solely on the politics side of the equation give them a chance to cover political races at all levels, from statewide elections to the House and the Senate. Their awareness of history is pure gold if, like me, you are utterly fascinated by the maddeningly arcane rules of the Senate.