Friday, May 23, 2014

Insiders/Outsiders

Here's an excerpt from Senator Elizabeth Warren's book A Fighting Chance. It recalls an exchange over dinner with Larry Summers who was then President Obama's Director of the National Economic Council.
Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.
I'd like to contrast two responses to this advice from Summers. First of all, Glenn Greenwald:
My book, and my writing and speaking more generally, usually criticizes insiders, and does so harshly and by name, so much of this reaction is simply a ritual of expulsion based on my chronic violation of Summers’ rule. I find that a relief.
And secondly, BooMan:
If you want to have a real impact on policy, you have to be an insider or, at least, gain the insiders' trust. You can stay on the outside and lob bombs at everyone but that will have minimal effectiveness. Sen. Warren seems to have gotten the message. She's the senior senator from Massachusetts now, and she is in a position to impact policy. 
To tell you the truth, I'm not comfortable with the designation of "insiders and outsiders" the way Summers describes it. But BooMan uses this quote to make a point that he refers to pretty often: in order for liberals to actually implement progressive public policy, we have to shed our comfort in being anti-establishment and learn what it means to become the establishment. I agree. A world of only rebels will never be anything but anarchy.

2 comments:

  1. Got the message? You've understood things backwards. Summers was threatening Warren, telling her to stop attacking Geithner over the handling of the TARP program or she wouldn't get to be the head of the CFPB. Well, she didn't knuckle under and she didn't get to be head of the CFPB - she got elected senator instead. The whole point of the story is to say, Fuck You, Larry.

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  2. I'd distinguish between have an impact and actively formulating policy. Booman's wrong about having an impact - Snowden and Greenwald are good examples of having an impact, a positive one, on privacy issues. But if you want a seat at the table and design what's going to change, then you have to behave a little differently.

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