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And the organization kids shall inherit the earth

Kevin Drum goes after David Brooks today, noting that Donald Berwick, who's been nominated to head the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, doesn't fit the "organization kid" model that Brooks laid out in his column about Elena Kagan. In fact, Berwick has been so relentlessly outspoken that Republicans are finding plenty of reasons to oppose his nomination. "So maybe the Organization Kids aren't taking over Washington DC after all," Drum writes.

Actually, I think this is unfair to Brooks, who didn't say that the organization kids are taking over DC. But the more important point is that these two things are connected. Look at how Berwick, Zeke Emanuel (excuse me, "Dr. Death"), and Cass Sunstein (who apparently wants to let your dog sue you) have fared in government: Their voluminous, intellectually interesting writings have turned into an arsenal of ammunition for the opposition.

In a world like that, you don't need more organization kids to see them dominating positions that require Senate confirmation -- they'll just be chosen for the gigs in high numbers. And as that dynamic becomes better understood, people with high ambitions will learn to keep their paper trail sparse, becoming organization kids whether they're temperamentally suited to it or not. As it becomes increasingly clear that anything you write or say can be found, uploaded to YouTube, and used against you at a later date, people who think they might be in public life someday will stop writing and saying, well, anything. And that won't mean our nominees will be more or less ideological, just that we'll know less about them until it's too late.

By Ezra Klein  |  May 13, 2010; 4:05 PM ET
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Just a bit of push-back: it's at least my impression that the more ideological, or, as I would put it, opinionated one is, the more difficult it is to muzzle oneself. If this is true, the dynamic you describe above will lead to increasingly less opinionated individuals seeking public office. To put the point slightly differently, the best way to avoid saying anything that might be offensive to someone is to avoid having well-formed views about sensitive issues.

Posted by: RyanD1 | May 13, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

They'll be more ideological. People who engage in good faith public debate develop certain habits of mind: they learn to accept and respond to the points of view of others; they are able to reject flawed and arguments and positions; they can be persuaded by new arguments and new data; they mature intellectually. People who refrain from public debate become wedded to the ideological views they accepted at a relatively young age.

Posted by: Bloix | May 13, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

wasn't Sunstein the one that was pushing the idea of "opt out" of organ donation some time back? now its being considered in CA and NY?


My opinion on it. I'm fine with it (we need more organ donation) but the one issue I have with it is if the relative of the deceased change their mind on it (even if the deceased wanted it), the state should relent to the relatives wishes. Less intrusive that way and you'll still end up with way more organ donations that way.

Posted by: visionbrkr | May 13, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

If by 'ideological' you mean dogmatic, then there is something to your point. That said, it still seems to me that insofar as a person is capable of muzzling herself with respect to controversial issues for decades, that person is very unlikely to be particularly passionate about those issues.

Posted by: RyanD1 | May 13, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

I can't wait to watch the confirmation hearings of 2034 when Ezra and freshman Senator Jonathan Krohn are discussing Nazi Germany. Made for TV, right there.

Posted by: Jenga918 | May 13, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I feel that eventually (especially if search techniques advance to the point where it's much easier to connect people to their psuedonyms) there will eventually come a point where everyone has some sort of skeleton in their closet (if only that they totally wrote erotic Pokemon fan fiction when they were 12) that the political system will eventually just throw up their hands and not care anymore.

But that's in the long term. In the middle term you're probably right.

Posted by: usergoogol | May 13, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Brooks always wants the Democrats to do courageous things that will get them voted out. Remember his health care advice? Propose Wyden-Bennett. That innovative bill has, of course, worked out awesomely for Bob Bennett, who just lost his primary.

Posted by: Anno3 | May 13, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

My hope is that the Facebook era will eventually desensitize us to controversial but interesting opinions. When Millennials are running for office, will voters who grew up posting drunken pictures and status updates on Facebook, who sent regrettable angry emails over college list-servs in their 20s, really be swayed against a candidate by soundbites and controversial opinions? I think there's a good chance that 20 years from now, we will all know so much about the sordid details of our peers' lives, that we simply won't care.

Posted by: akent07 | May 13, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Well put, Bloix.

It's the same process that produces ideological purity in our elected politicians, bland scripted answers in our debates and mindless pap in our news.

Posted by: simpleton1 | May 13, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

"Anything you say can and will be used against you."

Posted by: golewso | May 13, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Definitely and then you, greenwald, & Yglesias can go on twitter and slime them for it.

Posted by: carolerae48 | May 14, 2010 2:09 AM | Report abuse

When challenging consensus becomes disqualifying, then consensus will never be challenged. If this is true only in public, then consensus will still be challenged in private. If it's true both in public and in private, then consensus won't be challenged anywhere.

Posted by: jeffwacker | May 14, 2010 2:10 AM | Report abuse

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