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.
I very much liked Eli Lake the one time I met him (at a party organized by our mutual friend Laura Rozen). He’s a terrific reporter, much better than the rather dubious publications that often pay his wages (the now departed print version of New York Sun, the Washington Times). He really should be working for the Washington Post or the New York Times: he’s one of the very few neo-conservatives out there that is capable of genuine, ground-breaking gum-shoe reporting.
Having said that, he’s also a bit of an ideologue, as witness a recent tweet he sent out: “Re: Wikileaks Do you get the impression Arab leaders care more about settlements or Iran?”
In today’s Washington Post, there’s an extensive chart tracing the history of neo-conservatism from Leo Strauss and Leon Trotsky to the Bush White House (the chart accompanies a review of Jacob Heilbrunn’s new book They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons).
The chart manages to pack in a great deal of information in a small space but necessarily simplifies and unnecessarily contains factual errors.
A few notes: I don’t think it’s true to say that Ayn Rand was an influence on National Review (she was excoriated in the magazine for her atheism).