Why Do They Hate Ezra Klein?

Ezra Klein: How can you hate this man?

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.

3 thoughts on “Why Do They Hate Ezra Klein?

  1. It’s easy to, well in my case, feel indifferent to Ezra Klein because of the following:

    http://trueslant.com/ethanepstein/2010/06/01/potemkin-pundits-did-matt-yglesias-and-ezra-klein-fall-for-chinese-propaganda/

    If people that credulous are “rising stars” with a lot of ideas about “positive reform”, Yglesias and Klein are going to crash the progressive wing of the Democratic party into the ground pretty quickly.

    I like visiting this blog, and even though I frequently disagree with the political sentiments of the yourself and the other writers, I’ve never come away from it wondering, “Why on earth would anybody cut these people a check for their professional writing.” I frequently make a point of checking in because I think you are a top notch prose-stylist, and your posts and articles are well-researched.

    On the other hand, I check read Yglesias’s blog mainly for giggles. Case in point:

    http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2009/10/the-daddy-factor/

    Ignore, for a moment, the incredibly awkward lede. Consider, instead, the link that he posts referencing those impressive Swedish fertility rates.

    Sweden has a fertility rate that is well below replacement level, but Yglesias considers it high by industrialized world standards, despite the fact that if a reader scrolls up the list, there are many industrialized nations with higher fertility rates, two of witch, New Zealand and the United States, are at, or near replacement level.

    Iceland, France, Norway, Ireland – all have significantly higher birthrates then Sweden that are actually closer to replacement level.but But our hero is going to stick with the Swedish model come hell or high water, and not even take the time to explain why, if higher total fertility rate is desirable, these nations have Sweden beat.

  2. Based on my reaction to a Matt Yglesias post I saw this morning, I think I can offer something a little more sympathetic. For what it’s worth, I’m 36 and consider myself to straddle the liberal/Left divide (in a Michael Berube criticizing Thomas Frank kind of way). I’m also a Zionist. By that, I hold a little closer to Herzl’s rationale than some contemporary Zionists, but I basically think Israel ought to continue to exist as a Jewish state (while hopefully growing increasingly liberal). The differences I have with Yglesias aren’t often so different if we limit ourselves to concrete issues, but the differences in perspective are far greater.

    In a post from yesterday, Yglesias commented on a piece by Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post. (My post is short, so I’ll try to offer the bare minimum here for explanation.) What I found frustrating is that neither Diehl nor Yglesias use the word antisemitism when it’s so obviously called for. (“He also said that Israeli agents had infiltrated Malaysia’s security forces and were “directly involved in the running of the government.”) Yglesias has a good point that Israel isn’t the center of Malaysian politics, but he seems to put the blame on Diehl, when the mistake clearly arises in Malaysian politics first.

    And then seeing your post, it occured to me how Yglesias and Klein are so often used to make me invisible. It isn’t that Yglesias is entirely wrong here; he does make a good point, as he often does. But if I want to talk about antisemitism with someone, so often that someone will first make me argue with an absent Yglesias before they’ll even recognize me. I some situations, when it was quite clear that I’m Jewish, I’d be dismissed with words like “Yglesias is Jewish, and so I really respect his opinion on such matters.” And, particularly, this occurs in progressive places where it really shouldn’t and where I feel exclusion poignantly. Yglesias and Klein are given superstanding by people who would like to keep me quiet. That can be incredibly frustrating.

    Ideally, that wouldn’t lead to hatred of Yglesias, but it’s an easy mistake. In part, because it’s safer than speaking out against the people silencing me.

  3. I think it’s pretty difficult to pin Goldberg’s antipathy towards Ezra Klein on differences over Israel — in large part because I’m skeptical there is that large of a difference in the concrete positions on Israel (as opposed to framing/focus) held by Klein versus Goldberg. I’m sure they have differences at the margin, but on the big issues, where’s the gap? Klein is a supporter of J Street, Goldberg is at the very least quite sympathetic to it. Klein is strongly opposed to the settlements, Goldberg has written some of the most powerful anti-settlement journalism to ever be published in the mainstream media. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I am curious on what current Israel issues Jeffrey Goldberg takes a significant, substantively different posture from Ezra Klein. Hawkishness towards Iran, I guess. Anything else?

    This disjuncture really stood out to me when Peter Beinart’s essay was published and Jon Chait wrote his reaction to it — a reaction that was mostly positive (though not uncritical), because, as Chait wrote, he thought he had a very similar outlook as Beinart did, albeit with slightly different points of emphasis. I remember that folks were all ready for Beinart’s essay to instigate some sort of royal rumble between Beinart and the liberal pro-Israel establishment, and when that didn’t happen, they got really confused and just tried to force a narrative of apocalyptic conflict onto it anyway.

    I’m not really sure why folks are so invested in portraying some massive policy gap between the Chait/Goldberg wing and the Klein/Yglesias/Ackerman wing of Israel-punditry. To be sure, there is a rather large distinction between both of these groupings and the positions taken by, say, Marty Peretz, which is why I tend to find Peretz a crazy person while finding Klein and Goldberg and Chait and Yglesias generally (though not always) persuasive.

    But if there is one thing that Israel/Palestine discussions need less of, it’s painting with broad brush strokes. It’s dangerous when superb pro-Israel groups like J Street are casually lumped in with the genuine Israel-haters in, say, the BDS crowd (to quote Goldberg, “One can be pro-Israel and anti-settlement.”). It’s also dangerous to simply presume that any member of the liberal pro-Israel “old guard” is uniformly uncritical of “Israeli nationalism”. There’s little evidence that’s the case (at least uniformly), and I’m not sure what purpose it serves to pre-emptively expel potential allies who can and do provide “honest criticism from American and the Jewish diaspora” on a near-daily basis.

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