The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

Ezra Klein Knocks Congress

Ezra Klein thinks a lot of things are terrible, foremost among which might be the United States Congress. He started his presentation last Friday with a graph that showed just where the approval rating of Congress – which is currently at about 9% – relation to many other events and institutions, like Nixon during Watergate, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the possibility of the US going Communist. (Hint: Congress wasn’t faring too well.) The question, Klein says, is not whether we think Congress is ineffectual (Hint: We do), but why it is ineffectual. Ezra Klein was the first speaker in the fall Public Policy Lecture Series, giving a talk entitled “Where Economics and Politics Meet.” He is known for being something of a wunderkind in pundit circles, starting his first politically themed blog in 2003 at the age of 18, and has worked at the Washington Post since 2009. Introducing Klein, Professor Paul Gronke said he sought to “not just fill space but create depth” in punditry programming, and “among the ill-fitting blue blazers and khakis of most political science conventions, Klein cuts quite a figure.”

Many people went into the lecture expecting to hear Klein talk about the upcoming election and its effects on the nation, which Klein dismissed early on, saying, “After the election, regardless of the winner, Washington will continue to be a horrible pit of dysfunction.” In fact, Klein barely talked about the president at all- his focus was firmly on congress. The core of his argument dealt with political incentives, and how they affect the behavior of congresspeople. He said the most direct reason why Congress is ineffective is because of the growing polarization between the two parties, and the increased use of the dreaded filibuster.  While the filibuster was used in the past, Klein noted, it was used sparingly because it was essentially a waste of Congressional time for the organization to be in gridlock. While it remains a waste of time for them today, he argued, the incentives for gridlock in Congress have become congruent with the incentive to gain political power. Put otherwise, Klein was arguing that the reason Congresspeople use the filibuster is no longer as a final resort, but rather a calculative tool to accrue political power.

While the content of his speech came off as overtly cynical, Klein managed to diffuse his frustration with the modern political system with the humor typical of someone possessed of youth. He managed to keep the crowd laughing all while dropping more and more knowledge upon them. Klein was angry, yes, but he wasn’t going to let it get to him, and by extension, to us.

The next speaker in the Public Policy Lecture Series is Jose Antonio Vargas, who is presenting a lecture entitled “Define American.” The talk is taking place on Wednesday, October 24th, at 4:30 PM in Vollum Lecture Hall. 

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