What a year to be involved in politics! Particularly for Taegan Goddard ’88, founder of the 17-year-old Political Wire, a website that attracts up to 10 million readers per month. Goddard also runs Wonk Wire, Political Job Hunt, and Political Dictionary, and was previously the chief operating officer of two investment firms, Oppenheimer Capital and PIMCO Equity Advisors. We caught up with him just before the election.
How did your interest in politics start?
My parents were both very politically active and we spent many nights at dinner discussing politics and the issues of the day. The issue when I was a kid was the Vietnam War. The images of the bodies on the evening news—that made the biggest impact on me. And in 1972, I was on a tour of the Capitol when George McGovern (the Democratic presidential nominee) just happened to come down the hall and my father grabbed his attention and introduced me to him. I remember my father talking about how Senator McGovern could become president and how that could change America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. And I just remember thinking as a very young kid that that’s all it took.
How did your experience at Vassar affect your interest in politics?
Literally, the first guy I met [at Vassar] was also interested in politics, and so we started talking and we proceeded to find we couldn’t have been on more opposite sides of the political spectrum. But what was interesting about Vassar was that as the four years went on, the two of us actually became such good friends that when we graduated, we both lived in Washington, D.C., together and we actually stood up in each other’s weddings. Through Vassar, I think the two of us were able to understand each other a whole lot better. The idea of trying to really understand where the other guy is coming from, you end up finding you have a whole lot more in common than you thought you did.
Few people in political journalism have run two prominent investment firms. How does that experience inform your work now?
I’ve always thought that our politicians do a significantly better job when they’re serving in government if they have another set of experiences to draw upon. What I realized is that the idea of looking at the world from someone else’s perspective is extremely important, because wherever we go every day, whatever job we do every day, all of that creates certain biases and gives us a distorted perspective of the way the world really is and it’s very helpful to always pull yourself out of that. There is no right way to do anything; there are a lot of ways.
It seems like everyone says this is the craziest political year ever. What’s your take?
I think we’re in a unique situation where one of the two major parties is crumbling—the Republican Party is coming apart at the seams and Donald Trump is more of a symptom of that than the cause. This is something that we’ve seen building over the last half-dozen years, where the divisions in the party are really coming to the forefront.
Do you think people are growing more polarized?
Even though I am part of this digital media world, it is interesting how it is so easy for us all to get information that corresponds with our own beliefs. Facebook knows exactly what it is we like, and we have these algorithms now that are feeding us information according to what we already like. We can shelter ourselves from viewpoints that are different from ours.
Tom Kertscher is a PolitiFact Wisconsin reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the author of books on two Wisconsin sports figures: Al McGuire and Brett Favre. You can follow him on Twitter: @KertscherNews and @KertscherSports.