Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Better Kind of Pundit

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post is one of the best political journalists and bloggers currently operating, mostly because he injects wisdom from political science into his commentary and analysis. Most political journalism is terrible because it makes no attempt to separate important details from unimportant ones. Nowhere is this more apparent than with presidential politics. For many reasons--not least it's easier to report and explain--journalists obsess over things like leadership, campaign minutiae, personalities, style, etc. Unfortunately, that stuff just doesn't matter very much when compared to deeper structural and institutional forces like Congress, the fed, macroeconomic trends, or voting systems.

In a recent debate with columnist Matt Miller over the prospect of third-party candidates, Klein articulates his position:
But I want to be really clear here. My answer is super unsatisfying. It is horrible. It is depressing. It makes you think nothing will happen for a long time. But that’s because that’s true. I mean, when you say what’s your answer, I don’t have an inspiring answer. I don’t have a something easy to get up and give a beautiful speech on. I’ve heard politicians give beautiful speeches. And I am sure — I’ve now looked at the literature to back this up — I am sure that those speeches are not going to bring change. Not the sort of change that you want, not the sort of change that I want. I am sure that if your guy got elected, he or she would come in and go to Congress and say, I want $50 billion for universal pre-K, and I want a transaction tax for the financial industry, and I want to make our health care system more like Singapore’s, and I want an energy tax that moves the corporate and payroll taxes over to carbon. And Congress would laugh at them, and that would be that. Because the president is not a king and he’s not a dictator.
And so my answer is that unfortunately, we have to do this hard, unpleasant, incremental work of making things better piece by piece, 5 percent, 10 percent of the time. And you know what? If that’s not equal to the scale of our challenges, well, the reality is that our institutions are unequal to the scale of our challenges. And that’s a hard thing to explain. But that’s why I spend so much time trying to explain it, and why I fight efforts to tell people that a third-party president can sweep in and solve our problems.
Reinforcing his point, Klein's fantastic review of Ron Suskind's Confidence Men is definitely worth checking out, as is this super-long breakdown of the economy since Obama took office. The blog post, 'Shrinking the Presidency Back Down To Size' also offers a nice summary of Klein's hobby horse.

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