NEW WONKS ON THE BLOCK: Who the heck is Dylan Matthews!


Part 2—Promising echo of Klein: At MSNBC, at the Washington Post, new liberal and mainstream elites are being assembled and certified.

Often, they call themselves wonks, nerds or geeks. It’s the liberal world’s top humblebrag!

That said, who are these new wonks on the block? Quite possibly, they will define the horizons of the liberal world over the next many years.

Who are the new wonks? Struck by two year-end lists at the Post’s Wonkblog site, we felt it was time to find out.

One example: Who the heck is Dylan Matthews, we finally decided to ask. And we’ll admit it:

We were surprised by the profile the analysts brought us—a profile written by Matthews himself at some point after May of last year. The post can be found at this blog, where Matthews has archived his work from the early years:
MATTHEWS (2012): I’m a policy journalist who focuses on taxes, budgets, and other elements of US economic and fiscal policy. Currently I’m a staff reporter for Wonkblog at The Washington Post. In the past, I’ve written for The New Republic, Salon, The American Prospect and Slate. This site exists as an archive of my work, and in particular of a blog that I started writing as a middle schooler in February 2004 and have continued, in some form, ever since.

Until May 2012 I was an undergraduate at Harvard College, where I studied moral and political philosophy (though Harvard being itself, my degree is technically in “social studies“), wrote a regular column for The Crimson, served as president of Perspective Magazine, and was a DJ for the underground rock department as well as tech director for WHRB.
Say what? He started a blog as a middle schooler? That said, we were even more concerned by Matthews’ achievements at Harvard.

We demanded more information. As if they had a bone to pick, the analysts directed us to this report from July 2010, in which Katie Glueck profiled “five rising stars under age 25.”

Dylan Matthews had made the cut with five years to spare:
GLUECK (7/10): Dylan Matthews, 20, The Washington Post

Read the blog of Washington Post celebrity Ezra Klein and you can't miss the work of his assistant, Dylan Matthews. Matthews is a rising Harvard junior, and like his boss, he has had a meteoric rise through the political blogosphere. At 14, Matthews started his own blog, at 16 he was freelancing for Slate, at 18 he worked at The American Prospect, and at 19 he signed on with Klein. Matthews guest-blogs and researches for Klein and also helps him produce Wonkbook, which is a left-leaning, more economically-focused version of Mike Allen's Politico Playbook. At the age of 20, Matthews has access to a national audience with whom he shares his views on complex, high-level policy matters.

"It's a tricky border to walk, but you have to have an appropriate humility about what you can do and yet have the confidence that if you have a smart point to make, to make it regardless of experience," he said.

Matthews said that a host of other bloggers, including Klein, have set a precedent for youthful representation in political discourse.

"People have acknowledged that young people, like Ezra or [blogger at Center for American Progress] Matt Yglesias, can do useful writing, or in Ezra's case, reporting, even if they haven't cut their teeth at the metro desk for 10 years, although that's incredibly useful as well," Matthews said.
There’s a bit more; we’ll suggest that you hungrily fall on each word. But we were struck by the youth—and the admitted humility—of this new wonk on the block.

We'll admit it. We were also struck by the keister-kissing in that last quoted remark.

Needless to say, people should be judged by the strength of their work. We have no particular view about the strength of Matthews’ work to date.

But good God! As a bit of a skeptic RE high achievers, we would tend to regard that biographical profile as a possible bio from Hell.

In our view, we liberals should be skeptical about the new elites which are being assembled for us. With that in mind, let’s consider the career of Katherine Boo, whose new book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, was the top choice of the wonks at the blog in this year-end reading list.

Decades ago, Boo was part of a new elite—a new liberal elite which was being assembled at Charlie Peters' Washington Monthly. We’ll assume this gang was full of promise and apparent achievement, just like the new wonks at the blog.

By most rational measures, Boo has fulfilled her promise. For us, her greatest achievement remains her prescient critique, in 1992, of the emerging journalistic culture she described as “Creeping Dowdism.” (As best we can tell, Boo’s 3800-word piece is not available on-line.) But from there, she forged a career in which she wrote about those who might otherwise be ignored.

Many of her promising pals from the Washington Monthly took a different route. They can now be seen on Morning Joe, where it might be argued that the Dowdism has crept through and largely consumed them.

In our view, fiery liberals should be concerned about the ascent of 14-year-old bloggers. Trust but verify, as President Reagan once said!

Will Ezra Klein and his apparent high-achievers end up like Boo? Or will they end up like the others? Tomorrow, we’ll look at one choice from that year-end book list which we found a bit hard to believe. And we’ll consider the kinds of errors these hard-charging tyros might tend to make—the kind of error our fiery new liberal leaders just made, en masse, in the matter of Susan Rice.

On MSNBC, at the Washington Post, a new group of “kool kids” is being formed. Will they end up as real achievers? Or will they just be Sam and Cokie?

Tomorrow: High praise for those who failed us


  1. I have to say I see mostly policy and political substance from the young guns on the evening MSNBC, and not much Dowdism. There may be plenty of careerism there, but unlike Dowd's style completely devoid of substance, character snark is usually closely affiliated with factual reporting and analysis as well.

  2. I see savvy careerism. Our opinion overlords now no longer need to have any experience whatsoever, they just need to have precocious vocabularies.

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