I reserve a significant amount of my personal allotment of scorn for Rolling Stone magazine, mostly due to the misguided impressions it gave me about which portions of classic rock history merited veneration (they sure did like creaky British dudes swiping shamelessly from classic American blues), as well as which then-current albums were worthy of attention when I was a subscriber. I can almost forgive all those infractions against sensible music taste, however, because that publication is also responsible for my introduction to the insightful writing of William Greider.
When I started reading Rolling Stone regularly, in the mid nineteen-eighties, Greider was officially listed (I believe) as the “National Editor.” I’m not entirely sure what level of input he may have had into the other newsier articles included in the magazine, but he regularly had a lengthy column that appeared towards the front. I read Rolling Stone from cover to cover back then, and my political viewpoints were shimmering into sharp clarity concurrently with my interest in music. Greider was aligned with my burgeoning sensibility (as opposed to the reactionary buffoonery of P.J O’Rourke, the other person given extensive column inches to expound of his view of the political wilds), but it wasn’t just the codification of my left-leaning inclinations that I appreciated. It was that Greider approached the dilemmas of the day with a gratifying intellectual honesty, a desire to apply logic and hard facts to ongoing debates to see what conclusions should be drawn. He addressed issues passionately but with respect to the fact that a variety of approaches existed. His job was to test the soundness of his views, not to cherry-pick anecdotal outrage until he wound up with an overwhelming manifesto of angsty, agitated fulminations, a distinction that current Rolling Stone political writer Matt Taibbi, he of the sophomoric name-calling and slippery evidence, could stand to learn.
As I’ve mentioned before, I became something of a fiend for new books when I successfully completed my undergraduate experience and was freed from the tyranny of assigned text. One of the first books I snatched up in my first weeks of cognitive liberation was Greider’s Who Will Tell the People?, compellingly subtitled The Betrayal of American Democracy. It was an energizing read, exactly what I needed when moving from campus life, with its constant infusions of civic mindfulness, to the so-called real world, where the burden of political attentiveness was entirely on me. Greider’s book may have been about the appalling erosion of the democratic process as an apparatus for responding to the needs of the citizenry (a lament grown sadly more pertinent in the twenty years since publication), but in detailing what was going awry there is hope that no matter how much water swamped in, the ship could be righted again. Years later, in the face of more contrary evidence than I care to catalog, I still believe that, and I have Greider to thank. Or blame. Your pick.