Part I. Introduction

“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.”

Steve Jobs[1]

When I saw the cardboard sign—which displayed what had to be the craziest seven words I’d seen in a long time—I knew I had to quit my job.

I was working for the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency operation in Washington, D.C. The premise of the organization was simple: if we give people access to government data, they will demand better government, they will vote differently, and the quality of politicians getting elected will improve. But these seven words, held above the head of what looked to be a 40-something male in front of the White House, broke my heart and made me realize how futile that mission was by itself.

The sign said: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’d spent the past 10 years in Washington, D.C., trying to make a difference. Lots of folks said that my call to politics was like a call to the priesthood: that I was meant for it. It started in 2000, when I did get a call, but it wasn’t from God or even from Washington, D.C.—it was ...

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