One of the interesting subplots of the recent drama of David Weigel and Journolist (the private list-serv where Weigel made remarks that led to him parting ways with his employer, The Washington Post) is the revelation of how much certain writers hate Ezra Klein, the founder of Journolist. (See this post by Jeffrey Goldberg as an example ). Earlier examples of Klein hatred can be found in the collected prose of Mickey Kaus. Kaus faces is usually twitchy with tics but it becomes especially contorted and grotesque when Klein’s name is mentioned. What’s going on here? Why is Klein so hated in some circles?
A few thoughts:
1. The Generation Gap. Klein was born in 1984, making his 26 years old. Most of his critics have quite a few more tree rings around their belly than that. It’s natural to be jealous of a writer who has made a national name for himself while still considerably shy of his 30th birthday. It’s easy to imagine someone like Mickey Kaus looking in the mirror every morning and thinking, “what’s happened to me? I used to be a hot up-and-coming writer who was forcing liberals to rethink the welfare state. Now I’m just a washed up blogger who runs vanity campaigns in the Democratic senatorial race. I could have been somebody, I could have been a contender.” A burnt-out case like Kaus isn’t likely to respond well to a rising whippersnapper like Klein.
2. Ideology plus the Generation Gap. Tied to the previous point is that Klein belongs to a cohort of young progressives who are notably to the left of those liberals who cut their teeth in the 1970, 1980s and 1990s. The older liberals tend to be cynics like Kaus, who get most of their ideological thrills by attacking liberal groups and policies (unions, affirmative action, internationalism). This sort of cynical anti-progressive liberalism was the dominate mode of the New Republic for more than 30 years. But in the last decade there has been a rebirth of progressive activism leading to a cohort of young writers (mostly associated with the American Prospect magazine) who are more interested in proposing positive solutions rather than attacking older liberal ideas. That’s why Klein is seen as partisan, although in reality he is no more ideological than his critics. Klein’s ideology is one of positive reform, their ideology is one of cynical anti-progressivism.
3. Blogging. Ezra came to prominence as a blogger, a medium that is seen as a threat to old fashioned print journalism.
4. Israel. I hate to be like Jeffrey Goldberg and see everything through the prism of Israel, but I do think it is a factor. The older anti-progressive liberals of the New Republic ilk tend to be hard-core Israeli nationalists. They see Israel as permanently under siege and are always trying to defend it against its enemies (real and imagined). Klein by contrast belongs to a cohort of young Jewish Americans who are far cooler to Israeli nationalism and more inclined to believe that it’s in Israel’s best interest if it received honest criticism from American and the Jewish diaspora. To be fair, Kaus is a bit of an exception to this since he’s never been a hardcore Israeli nationalist but I think it’s true of Klein’s other critics, particularly Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg, it is worth remembering is an IDF veteran.
In sum, I’d say Klein-hatred says much about his critics and almost nothing about Klein himself. His critics are adherents to an aging set of ideas that are quickly losing whatever relevancy they may have once had. They know that and can’t stand it, so they turn on Klein as a scape-goat.
I should add that I myself have ideological disagreements with Klein (although from a different direction than most of his vocal critics). But still, he’s a writer I learn from. The emergence of a strong cohort of progressive writers is one of the most heartening developments in recent American history.