Political Animal


February 12, 2013 11:57 AM An Earned Celebrity

By Ed Kilgore

One of the least surprising ventures of the shiny new New Republic, with its focus on what might be called the aesthetic side of politics, is an extensive profile of Ezra Klein, whose precocious rise to celebrity in a shrinking and incredibly competitive field will also soon reportedly be highlighted at TNR’s peer rival New York.

Julia Ioffe’s impressionistic take on Klein is interesting—particularly to those of us who’ve known him and his work for years but haven’t been around him lately—but misses one aspect of his career and personality that helps explain his success: Ezra’s one of those people with a rare talent for collegiality. This extends beyond the civil tone of his writing to his genuine interest in the strange assortment of people drawn to political and policy writing in all its forms—not just those in the rarefied MSM air he now breathes. The strangest omission in Ioffe’s piece was Ezra’s central role in creating the JournoList, a virtual community of left-of-center writers, gabbers and academics that he shut down after the Daily Caller published a bunch of out-of-context quotes from the off-the-record communications of the group designed to “prove” it was a cabal aimed at controlling media coverage of the 2008 campaign (a laughable proposition to those of us active at JournoList, who for the most part argued with each other incessantly).

As he often explained to JournoList participants, Klein’s main motive in creating that Google Group was to introduce policy experts, political reporters, and opinion journalists to each other and get them talking to improve everyone’s work. And it succeeded—not in creating some “left-wing noise machine” as paranoid conservatives, some of whom were projecting their own operating modes, claimed—but in building bridges across often isolated professional categories, not to mention generations and political factions.

That some blogger in his early twenties succeeded in putting that community together was a testimony to Ezra Klein’s sincerity and charm. And it’s the same quality I experienced in 2007, when Ezra devoted a couple of hours to squiring me—a long-time operative of the much-hated Democratic Leadership Council—around a YearlyKos gathering in Chicago, showing people I didn’t have horns and introducing me to many future friends.

So I don’t begrudge Ezra Klein his celebrity or success, particularly in his emerging role as someone who helps keeps progressives grounded in empirical reality. He’s earned it, professionally and personally, and unless he’s changed recently, he hasn’t let it go to his head.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • hells littlest angel on February 12, 2013 12:19 PM:

    There aren't many political commentators who, in my opinion, come close to Rachel Maddow's level of professionalism, competence and intelligence, but Ezra Klein is certainly one of them. And not yet 30 years old -- wow.

  • Mimikatz on February 12, 2013 12:29 PM:

    Ezra Klein really is Mr. Wonk. He can explain anything in clear, understandable terms. I really enjoy his work. I don't think he is nearly as good as a host as he is as a guest, though, unlike Chris Hayes, another wunderkind. If the Post really does go behind a pay wall, he and Greh Sargent are the only reason I w ould consider it.

  • Shane Taylor on February 12, 2013 12:48 PM:

    Even if success had gone to his head or his motives were less than pure, I wouldn't really care. But I recoil at Klein's idea that he is out to fix the broken machine. Ed, how does that differ from the belief, which you have rightly lampooned in others, that one can take the politics out of politics? I am honestly struggling to see the difference.

  • beejeez on February 12, 2013 12:55 PM:

    Die, heretic!

  • Grumpy on February 12, 2013 1:13 PM:

    I remember when he was the Other Guy at Pandagon.

  • Russell Sadler on February 12, 2013 1:30 PM:

    Kind and generous compliments to Ezra Klein, Ed. He's a talented young man who's earned them the hard way.

  • bdop4 on February 12, 2013 3:04 PM:

    Agree totally with Mimikatz, although Hayes was a diamond in the rough when he started and has really raised the bar for political talk show hosts in the ensuing years, so I'de like to think that Klein could do the same if given the opportunity.

    If I had to limit my viewing to four hours a week, I would only watch Up! with Chris Hayes. The format is unbeatable and he has no parallel in keeping the discussion moving while also giving all panelist a chance to contribute.

  • Fred Brack on February 13, 2013 5:53 PM:

    "(S)omeone who helps keeps progressives grounded in empirical reality."

    A worthy, though extremely difficult task. In 2010 when ultra-liberal disillusionment, scorn, and even hate of Obama was at its peak, I obsessively pointed out on liberal blogs that a Gallup poll showed only 9% of Democrats self-identified as "very liberal," while 29% said they were "liberal," and a full 39% called themselves "moderate."

    So when Rachel Maddow (and others) claimed to be speaking for Obama's "base" while attacking him, they were being as dismissive of data, evidence, facts (including the reality of the filibuster and conservative Senate Democrats) as Republicans routinely are -- to liberal scorn.

    (Btw: I'm a 72-year-old ultra-liberal myself, of the pragmatic subspecies, who understands progressivism to embody the concept of "progress," or movement, sometimes in tiny steps, sometimes in giant strides, toward a goal.)

    For what it's worth, as a retired newspaperman, I'm a huge fan of Ezra's. In my occasional e-mails to him and/or his staff I often gush that Wonkblog is the more significant contribution to American journalism since The Federalist Papers. Ezra is obsessed with policy and the politics that drive it. Turns out other people are, too. Ezra's the Ray Kroc of that niche. Good for him.