Trade-union activist Mother Harris Jones was born and raised in Ireland, politically left-wing magazine Mother Jones was born and raised in San Francisco, and Mother Jones' political blogger Kevin Drum was born and raised in Garden Grove. Um, what?
The 55-year-old's path to political punditry is quite unlikely, and not just because his personal philosophy often runs counter to the bedrock conservative reputation of Orange County, where the nationally known pundit is virtually unknown. After graduating from Pacifica High School, Drum went to Caltech in Pasadena to study math. He discovered that to succeed at the home of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, you had to be really good at math. “I wasn't really good,” Drum deadpans over a taco at a joint near the Irvine home he shares with his wife of 21 years and their cat.
He left after two years for Cal State Long Beach, where his father was a speech professor who also taught film history. Drum studied journalism and served as city editor of The Daily 49er, but after graduating in the middle of the Reagan recession of 1981, he couldn't find a job as newspapers were already slashing staffs. “I almost got hired at a local weekly,” he recalls.
Drum instead went to work at Radio Shack for a few years. Later, he got a technical-writing gig with a local tech company. That led to a career in marketing with a software start-up at Irvine Spectrum. He eventually got sick of doing that, quitting in 2002 to become a marketing consultant. But his passion all along was really politics and current events—not the broad strokes of, say, a Crossfire episode, but rather the really nitty-gritty wonky shit involving the oil trade, election patterns and education policies. Before most newspapers had blogs, Drum started his own called Calpundit in 2003. That caught the attention of Washington Monthly, which wanted its own blog and enlisted Drum to launch Political Animal in 2004. Covering that year's presidential election (Dubya vs. Kerry) convinced Drum to give up marketing consulting to concentrate full-time on writing. He quickly gained a national following for his sharp, progressive commentary and number crunching—which political observers lapped up like milk.
In 2008, Drum jumped over to Mother Jones, where he has remained since with his blog, called simply “Kevin Drum.” His average workday involves waking up, walking downstairs to his computer, firing it up, and then reading newspaper, political and government-wonk websites. Something will catch his eye, and away Drum goes pounding at the keyboard and enlightening the world.
“I do that all day long,” he says, shrugging. “I'm a hermit. I don't get out much. I don't travel much, certainly not as much as I used to.” For him, it's “the perfect job,” noting he rarely hears from his bosses at Mother Jones.
Drum says he doesn't really hear from readers, either, choosing to avoid looking at the comments on his blog posts. Actually, there are exceptions: the messages left with the weekly “Friday Catblogging” posts that are “written” by Domino, Drum's feline. Catblogging is actually a holdover from Drum's Calpundit days, and when his eyes light up talking about it, you get the sense this e-hermit loves the reader interaction.
“They are non-political and basically friendly,” he says of the Catblogging comments. “If you get off politics, often you find people can be very clever and decent.”