David Banks: We have met the insiders; they are not us

  • Article by: DAVID BANKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 5, 2010 - 6:24 PM

Nonetheless, let us come to their defense; they can get things done.

I was driving home from work on Tuesday evening, having stopped for coffee rather than stopping to caucus, because as a journalist I am Merely An Observer and because as a voter I am of independent mind, which makes me an outsider to the political process.

Any doubt of this was dashed quickly by Minnesota Public Radio's Gary Eichten, who was interviewing caucus participants and asking (I paraphrase; I was watching the road): Hey, what about the critics who say these events are just inside baseball?

No disrespect to MPR, which tirelessly illuminates our tireless election cycles. (I am dimly aware of a bubbling brouhaha between this newspaper and public radio over public funding, but as you'll recall, I am an outsider. Even when I'm inside.) But I couldn't help wondering:

What's so wrong about being an insider?

What has ever been accomplished without the aid of insiders?

How many outsiders do not strive to be inside?

In general, we Americans fancy ourselves individualists. This is belied by pack behavior -- example: grown men in Favre jerseys -- but no matter. We distrust those whom we perceive to be on the inside.

I, too, distrust them. (Oh, how I distrust them.) But I fear that these feelings, rising in intensity like a wave of national nausea, are a study in contradictions.

Consider, from finance, the phrase "inside trading." Does it not conjure an image of real-life Gordon Gekkos illegally exploiting knowledge the rest of us don't have? But "insider" paired with "business" can also refer to executives who presumably are entitled to insights about company prospects, and who also buy and sell shares of their companies. Their trading activity, properly regulated and publicly revealed, can offer decent clues about the condition of their firms and the economy at large.

But that word -- regulation. According to a Gallup poll released this week, 57 percent of Americans fear that there are too many government wrenches in the mechanism of industry, and if there's a mechanic they don't trust, it's government. As was stated in a movie: Who's gonna monitor the monitors of the monitors? Don't think about this too hard; it's a hall of mirrors. At some point, we've got to trust someone.

Or consider politics in general. With any decision, there are those in favor, those complacent and those noisily against. These elements are the constants. Their shifting proportions are what moves the people who move policy.

But this doesn't always point to an obvious course of action. (The percentage of people who wanted health care reform dwindled as the idea grew tangible.) So because we do not live in a direct democracy, it is the job of insiders to interpret the tea leaves.

For better or for worse, things get done on the inside. Transparency is desirable, but it's never easy to reflect nuance to a nation of 300 million people. Perhaps there are indeed times when it's best to act first and explain later.

We at the Star Tribune were visited recently by a high-ranking federal official, who told us -- well, some interesting things, but I can't reveal them, because the meeting was off the record. I can tell you that I came away feeling somewhat more confident in having this person's hand on the lever, merely by virtue of a brief glimpse inside. Perhaps that was the goal.

For the record: I once did attend a precinct caucus -- Democratic, if you must know -- where I heard earnest representatives of the grass roots articulate wishes regarding very large issues. Those views were destined to be refined by people with better connections, whose views subsequently would be subsumed into those of people with better connections still.

The people in the caucus room that day were insiders. But they were also, and always, outsiders -- of which the wiser among them were aware.

David Banks is an associate editor for the Star Tribune's opinion pages.

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