Before we get any further, I’d like to take the opportunity to properly introduce myself. My name is David Rosen, and I am the founder of First Person Politics. The journey that led me to launch this business began nearly two decades ago, and I’d like to share that story with you to help you better understand my own thinking, interests, and motivations. Indeed, one of the things I’ve learned about human nature over the years is that we all love a good origin story. Here’s mine.
PROPERLY INTRODUCED, Part 1
My earliest political memory is of the 1988 presidential election between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. I was in the second grade at the time, and my class held a mock election with secret paper ballots. At the time, the only issue I cared about was whether my teacher understood what I meant when I marked my ballot with an “X” instead of a check mark. In my way of thinking, an “X” clearly meant I did NOT like that person…and I had the records to prove it. Several years earlier, I had held one of my kindergarten classmates in such profound contempt that I crossed out his picture in my yearbook with a bold permanent marker. But in the fall of 1988, it was the dreaded Michael Dukakis who was going to get the “X” from me, not that I could have explained why. For all I know, the giant “X” I made in the box next to his name ended up counting as a vote in his favor. Although the school I attended was forward-thinking, it was still in Dallas and it was still the 1980s. Do I really need to tell you who won? Or by how much?
Though I am old enough to have witnessed and remembered The Challenger explosion, I am certain that any memories I have of it are reconstructed. Sometimes I can recall flashes of nightly news broadcasts depicting the seminal events around the end of the Cold War: the revolutions in Eastern Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tienanmen Square massacre, and others. I have a vivid memory of Operation Desert Storm because it happened at the same time as a major confrontation with my childhood best friend. I also remember bits and pieces from the 1992 presidential election (especially the big-eared Ross Perot), the 1994 Republican landslide, and many of the major news events during the Clinton Administration. But until the second half of the 1990s, I lacked anything more than a superficial understanding of these events. Their face meaning was all I knew.
Very slowly, that began to change. Sometime in the mid 1990s, my parents forced me to start reading the newspaper. It was a thankless, joyless task at first, and I’m pretty sure I resisted doing it for several years. Sometimes they would quiz me on the day’s news to see if I had read anything at all. They were probably taking a page from President Reagan’s playbook: “Trust, but verify.”
The thing I remember most about those early years was how difficult it was to understand what was going on. Having been raised by smart, well-educated parents and given an outstanding education, it was never a question of my intelligence or my capacity to follow the news. My parents — correctly — had every confidence that I COULD figure out what was going on if I put my mind to it, or was forced to try. Nonetheless, there were times when I felt like an alien visiting from Uranus trying to become conversant the rich and complex details of life here on Earth.
For a newcomer to the world of politics, there is something about the form and content of standard political journalism that is exceedingly difficult to penetrate. Part of it is that the newspaper writing style has an artificial, stilted quality which comes off as disjointed to those unaccustomed to its conventions. But part of it is that most news articles lack the background information and narrative values that novices depend upon to follow the story. Most news articles assume a certain basic familiarity with the issues, the players, the institutions, and the processes — a familiarity which I clearly lacked.
If you know absolutely nothing about what Social Security is, how it works, why it matters, how, when, or why it came into being, how it relates to what’s going on today, who is on which side of the issue, and so forth, then a news story about a debate in Congress over Social Security finances won’t make any sense, much less the large numbers involved or the economic and budgetary consequences. “Social,” “Security,” and even “Congress” will appear as mere words on a page. Absent contextual meaning, a day’s news will come across as little more than sound and fury, signifying nothing. This was the challenge I faced in those early years.
To work through the problem, I initially gravitated toward subjects that I found easiest to understand. In middle school, that meant I read a lot of articles about social issues like the death penalty. But I would also read articles that contained some specific, tangible, accessible element I could easily relate to. For instance, I once did a current events presentation for a social studies class about an okra crop shortage. Why the sudden interest in okra? Because they served fried okra at the school cafeteria!
After some exposure to U.S. foreign policy in my first year of high school debate, my attention shifted toward the international section of the paper. I also started reading a few scholarly journals and magazines on foreign policy in pursuit of that interest. But none of this light or heavy reading gave me the context I needed to really understand American politics.
That’s why right from the beginning, I fell in love with editorials and op-eds.