Friday, May 11, 2007

Klein on Broder

Joe Klein responds to Glenn Greenwald's most recent on David Broder, and Glenn responds back. Glenn's points are good and you should read the exchange between the two. But one thing struck me about Joe Klein's comments that ties into what I write about critical review, and gives me a good opportunity to do a better job of explaining what I mean.

Klein's response "Is he saying that people like Broder and Ron Brownstein and me shouldn't talk to people outside the Beltway?" is striking in how completely it misses Greenwald's complaint. Greenwald is clearly not saying that Broder shouldn't talk to folks outside the Beltway. Glenn is constantly harping on the failure of people like Broder and Klein to understand the opinions of folks outside the Beltway. What Greenwald is clearly saying is that however much Broder and Klein try to find out what people think outside the Beltway, they are doing it very badly. They may well be trying very hard to feel the American pulse, but they are clearly failing to do so. Greenwald does think that Broder and Klein should talk with folks outside the Beltway, but that they should do it well, not badly.

But additionally, it seems to me that this is characteristic of our Beltway press corps, and much of our leadership in America. These people don't even consider the possibility that what they are doing, they are doing badly. It is simply assumed that if Broder is trying to understand the opinions of most Americans, he is doing it well. Neither Broder nor Klein seem to even consider the possibility that they are doing a poor job of what they are trying to do. But this self confidence is so ingrained that they even conclude that criticisms of what they do must be for the things they are doing not for the quality.

This ties into the very nature of critical review. To achieve true excellence in something, anything, you must keep in mind the possibility that you are doing it poorly and that there are ways to do it better. One must be constantly on the lookout for evidence that you are failing, or that you are doing the job poorly. There is thus a tension between self-confidence, which is necessary and this self-doubt which is also necessary. To let either dominate will result in failure. One of the chief characteristics of our Beltway culture is to be dominated by self-confidence to the point of abandoning any self-doubt and thus abandoning critical review. The results are at best mediocre and frequently disastrous.



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