Brian Morton, a fine novelist and engaging public intellectual, recentlytweeted: “Leftists should stop sneering at @ezraklein. If we’d had liberal policy wonks as solid as Klein in the 1970s neoconservatism would never have attained the stature that it did. It would have been intellectually checkmated.” These tweets elicited some responses from me and a few other interested parties but my thoughts on this are a bit more complex than can easily be fitted into 140 characters, so I’m posting a longer argument here.
I understand the impulse behind Brian’s tweets. One of the most heartening developments in recent American politics is the emergence of a generation of passionate young left and liberal writers who have been very effective in challenging the lazy hegemony of conservatism that has dominated elite opinion since the 1970s. Ezra Klein is a convenient synecdoche for this generation. To see him go after blowhards like David Brooks or Bob Woodward is a rare example of a witnessing a salutary public service that is also bracing and delightful.
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?
Much internet attention has been given to the “Juicebox Mafia”, a group of very young, Jewish, liberal bloggers who have been sharply critical of Israel, especially in the wake of the recent Gaza incursion. The terms Juicebox Mafia was coined and popularized by ideological opponents of the group (Noah Pollack in Commentary, Marty Peretz in the New Republic); but like the terms “Tory” and “queer”, it’s an insult which fast became a badge of honor. The core of the Juicebox Mafia would include Matthew Yglesias, Spencer Ackerman, Ezra Klein and Dana Goldstein.
I myself (without using the phrase “Juicebox Mafia”) tried to contextualize the group by arguing that we’re witnessing the emergence of a post-Zionist moment, with Jews all over the Diaspora increasingly alienated from Israeli nationalism.