I’ve observed the rise of Ezra Klein out of the corner of my eye for years. Political blogging is not really my thing, but I’ve been “around,” and I’ve brushed up against the “Juicebox” now and then (though I interacted with Matt Yglesias as early as 2003, usually I get on the radar of Washington policy types when my friend Reihan Salam picks up something I say). So I thought I’d point you to a profile in The New Republic, Ezra Klein: The Wise Boy, A tale of striving and success in modern-day Washington.
But I want to preface it with a weird incident that happened last year. My high school history teacher, now retired, and a self-identified moderate Democrat (his background is urban Midwestern white working class), passed along an Ezra Klein column and observed, “even the conservative Ezra Klein thinks….” Not everyone is a political junkie, or has watched the ideological perceptions of people change over time, but this was really bizarre for me. Four years ago I talked to Klein on the phone while working on my profile of Reihan Salam. I didn’t use anything Klein said because he kept pulling the best stuff “off the record.” Since I’m not a journalist this struck me as kind of strange, but I respected his preferences. I always think it is really weird to think that circa 2013 Ezra Klein is saying anything good about Republicans, when circa 2008 Ezra Klein had very little positive to offer when allowed to be candid (sugarcoating the tone and content; and to be clear, he had only good things to say about Reihan).
And yet who I am to judge? Archives of my stupid thoughts go back to 2002. That’s 11 years, and I’ve changed quite a bit, though not in all ways. Many people who become “public intellectuals” today are not going to have the luxury of being stupid anonymously, to get prominent you have to put yourself “out there” in the first place. When people ask me how to become a decent blogger, I always say, “get over your fear of saying stupid things in front of people.” Of course at some point you can start to pull things off the web, but it is highly likely that your comments are cached somewhere, and are going to be retrieved if one is persistent. I found the profile of Klein interesting, and appreciated that the author brought to light his older comments…but really who doesn’t have plenty of contradictory opinions over a decade? If you put a lot of them out in public in a journal form it isn’t hard to construct juicy juxtapositions.
This is of course just an elaborated version of what everyone is going to go through with the “death of privacy.” We’re in the awkward transition where digging up old quotes or embarrassing photos still has shock value. The trick will get old soon enough.