An Earned Celebrity

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.