Can Ezra possibly believe his new column!


The three faces of Ezra Klein: Over the weekend, we caught most of Ashley Judd’s 94-minute presentation on C-Span concerning women’s health.

Judd spoke with a roomful of graduate students in public health at George Washington University. To watch the whole session—it's very impressive—go ahead: Just click here.

We were impressed by the depth of Judd’s knowledge and experience. During the lengthy Q-and-A period, we were also impressed by those graduate students—by a string of well-informed, deeply intelligent, deeply involved young adults.

We were impressed by Judd because we hadn’t known she was so deeply involved in public health issues. In part, we were impressed by those graduate students because we had spent the bulk of the day sifting through the manifest bullshit which constitutes so much of our journalism.

A fair amount of that time had been devoted to the work of a 20-something journalist.

Those 20-something graduate students were manifestly smart and sincere. By way of contrast, that 20-something journalist had written a very unusual piece.

Question: Does anyone think that Ezra Klein really believes what he wrote in this latest piece? Can anyone think he's sincere?

The piece in question appeared in yesterday’s Washington Post. Although it was hard to find on-line, it sat atop the first page of the hard-copy paper’s Sunday Business section.

On-line, it was hard to find a link to Klein’s piece; it didn't appear under Business at all. That said, does anyone think that Klein believes what he wrote in that high-profile hard-copy piece?

In fairness, Klein’s piece made wonderful Sunday reading. It helps establish Klein as a very sensible young man—you might even say, as a Very Serious Young Person. It’s a fairly typical offering from Hard-Copy Ezra, a personage who seems to be differ from two other well-known public figures—Wonkblog Ezra and Cable News Ezra, Hard-Copy Ezra’s siblings.

Ezra’s high-profile Sunday piece seems to make a remarkable claim. According to Ezra, Republicans can’t reach agreement with Obama concerning the budget because the Republicans simply don’t know what Obama has proposed. No sane person could believe such a thing—but Ezra was selling this claim from the start, in a type of feel-good piece which is perfect for Sunday Business.

Here's how the way 20-something began, improbable headline and all. According to Ezra, the nation’s ongoing budget debacles stem from a misunderstanding:
KLEIN (3/3/13): What we have here is a failure to communicate

On Thursday, I attended a background briefing with one of the most respected Republicans in Congress. The rules on these gatherings is you can’t name those involved, but you can quote them. That gives the lawmaker room to be a bit more honest without fear of immediate public reprisal. The discussion was frank and, in a way, encouraging—it suggested that some of the gridlock in Washington is simply the result of poor information.
In that opening, Ezra implies that this (unnamed) Republican solon was being unusually honest. Ezra also advances a rather strange notion—he seems to suggest that our budget gridlock is the result of misinformation.

Yes, yes, we know—technically, Ezra only said that some of the gridlock may result from misinformation. But as he continued, he advanced a patently strange idea—when it comes to our budget debacle, this leading Republican is unaware of even the basic things Obama has proposed:
KLEIN (continuing directly): Would it matter, one reporter asked the veteran legislator, if the president were to put chained-CPI—a policy that reconfigures the way the government measures inflation and thus slows the growth of Social Security benefits—on the table?

“Absolutely,” the legislator said. “That’s serious.”

Another reporter jumped in. “But it is on the table! They tell us three times a day that they want to do chained-CPI.”

“Who wants to do it?” said the legislator.

“The president,” replied the reporter.

“I’d love to see it,” laughed the legislator.

You can see it. If you go to, the first thing you’ll see is an invitation to read the president’s plan to replace the sequester. That plan is only a page. “Savings from Superlative CPI”—another way of saying chained-CPI (consumer price index)—is one of the items in bold type.
In that passage, this leading Republican says he doesn’t know that the sky is blue. Everyone who follows the budget debate knows that Obama has routinely proposed “chained CPI;” it’s one of the president's proposals which the liberal base abhors. But according to Ezra, this leading Republican didn’t know that Obama has made this proposal, even though the proposal is right there in bold, right on the White House web site!

Is it possible that this Republican was simply lying about this? Ezra bats away that notion:
KLEIN: Now, one possibility is the legislator was simply lying. But I doubt it. Politicians don’t like to make themselves look uninformed in rooms full of reporters, and such cynical messaging would be out of character for this particular member of Congress. What we have here, rather, is a failure to communicate.
“What we have here is a failure to communicate!” Ezra decides that this veteran Republican really and truly doesn’t know that Obama has routinely offered chained CPI.

In bold type.

Is it possible that Ezra is right—that this unnamed Republican solon knows less than the average blogger? Everything is possible! For that reason, it’s possible that some individual veteran solon is just amazingly clueless. But at this point, Ezra transits from one unnamed solon to a string of major Republicans, including three major players he names.

According to Ezra’s clear implication, a whole lot of Republicans are in the dark about a whole bunch of Obama’s proposals. Here’s the way he starts moving beyond that one clueless pol with no name:
KLEIN (continuing directly): Chained-CPI isn’t the only policy concession the White House has made that seems to have escaped the notice of its negotiating partners. When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talks about what’s needed for an agreement, he calls for “serious means-testing for high-income people” on Medicare. When Sen. Lindsey Graham said he’d be open to a deal that would replace the sequester with $600 billion in revenues if the White House would reform entitlements. I asked his office what Graham meant. “He’s discussed things like raising the Medicare eligibility age, means-testing entitlements, etc.,” said Kevin Bishop, his communications director.

It’s a continuing source of frustration among Republicans that the Obama administration, which seems so comfortable taxing the rich, isn’t comfortable with “means-testing” entitlements—which is to say, asking wealthier seniors to bear a heavier burden for their health-care costs or receive less coverage from Medicare.

But on page 34 of the White House’s most recent budget, President Obama proposes to do exactly that...
According to Ezra, Republicans also don’t seem to know that Obama has proposed “means-testing” our social insurance programs. In this passage, he names two major Republican solons, plainly suggesting that they don’t know what Obama has proposed.

By now, you’d have to be barking mad to believe the suggestion that Ezra’s advancing. But just to seem Even More Serious, he mentions a third proposal concerning which Republican leaders are apparently in the dark:
KLEIN: Republicans also believe that supplemental Medicare insurance—typically called “Medigap” policies—are increasing costs because they often wipe out any co-pays or deductibles for seniors. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate committee that manages Medicare, has taken particular aim at these plans. “Multiple studies have found the Medigap policyholders use about 25 percent more services than Medicare enrollees who have no supplemental coverage, and about 10 percent more services than enrollees who have employer-sponsored retiree coverage,” he notes in a policy paper.

The administration agrees that Medigap policies are a problem. It’s proposed a 15 percent surcharge on Medigap policies that cover first-dollar expenses. The idea is to make those policies less attractive to seniors. Privately, administration officials say they’d be willing to go quite a bit further.
Please note: Ezra never explicitly says that Hatch, or any other Republican, doesn’t know what Obama has proposed about Medigap. But that is his plain implication, given the mountain of manifest nonsense which has preceded this passage.

By now, we have been told that Republican leaders simply don’t know what Obama has proposed in three policy areas. The information is right there in bold, but major Republicans—people like McConnell—apparently haven’t looked! A person would have to be out of his mind—or very ambitious—to advance such a ludicrous notion. But as he closes, Ezra drives the point home, offering only one or two minor qualifications:
KLEIN (continuing directly): That’s not to say that the White House necessarily goes as far as all Republicans would like—though they complain that it’s often hard to figure out exactly how far Republicans want to go, as they have a habit of handing over targets for how much money they want to cut from Medicare without detailing the policies that would get them there.

Still, over the course of dozens of conversations with Democrats and Republicans on Medicare, I’m convinced that the zone of agreement is larger than many participants in the debate realize. What’s holding an agreement up is, in part, that Republicans are far less willing to compromise on taxes than Democrats are to compromise on Medicare and Social Security. But what shouldn’t be holding an agreement up is that top Republicans simply don’t know the compromises the White House is willing to make on Medicare and Social Security.
Ezra Klein is a Very Sensible Person, the kind of highly presentable boy you might take home to the elders. Speaking to the Post’s Business readers, he makes a truly Neptunic claim: “top Republicans simply don’t know the compromises the White House is willing to make on Medicare and Social Security.”

Covering his keister a bit, he does acknowledge, though only in passing, that “Republicans are far less willing to compromise on taxes than Democrats are to compromise on Medicare and Social Security.” But that's the type of obvious fact you’ll hear emphasized by Cable Ezra. Hard-Copy Ezra is a different person—a person who is willing to make the most absurd claim on earth.

Does anyone believe, for even a minute, that Ezra Klein really believes this nonsense? As we have noted above, everything is possible. Because he is a very young person, it’s possible that Ezra is so credulous—perhaps so inclined to trust authority figures—that he really believes that people like McConnell and Graham haven’t checked to see what Obama is proposing.

It's always possible that he believes that. But if this young person believes such twaddle, why is he allowed anywhere near a major American newspaper?

For ourselves, we have no idea why Ezra wrote this manifest nonsense. It’s hard to believe that he could believe this foolishness—but he has printed plenty of bullshit before in his Hard-Copy persona. In the past, Hard-Copy Ezra has assured the world, on several occasions, that Paul Ryan is the world’s most sincere, well-intentioned and forthright man. And on the week he scored his contract with Bloomberg, he wrote a front-page piece in the Post about how amazingly great Bloomberg-style “education reform” really is.

Was that a Ka-CHING moment? Or did it reflect an honest belief? We'll let you be the judge!

So how about it? Do you believe that Ezra believes the manifest bullshit in Sunday's piece? Or do you think he was simply creating feel-good stuff for the Post’s Business readers? Whatever it is, the eternal note of sadness came in when we checked the gullibility quotient of Ezra’s readers. In the first dozen comments, quite a few readers swallowed this bullshit whole—although Commenter 10 seemed to think that Hard-Copy Ezra was lying:
COMMENT 10 (3/1/13): Quote: “Now, one possibility is the legislator was simply lying. But I doubt it. Politicians don’t like to make themselves look uninformed in rooms full of reporters, and such cynical messaging would be out of character for this particular member of Congress.”

You're kidding, right?! Mr. Klein if you're actually serious, you really need to get out of DC more. Can you honestly recall the last time a GOP pol stood before a room of reporters and didn't proceed to dish out a litany of misinformation and propaganda? Please tell us you were just trying to see if we're still paying attention with that bizarre remark. In any case, the whole thing doesn't make any sense in the service of your point. Let's say we take the GOP pol at his word—if he's as senior and respected as claimed, he has entree to the president. Why didn't he take it upon himself to simply ask the president if he would be willing to negotiate on these items? It's painful to observe such an otherwise smart pundit like yourself be so willingly played like this.
Even this otherwise sceptical person is sure that Ezra is smart. That said, this commenter doesn’t seem to understand the way the new mandarins work:

Commenter, please! Cable Ezra will join the snark about the way Republican pols routinely stand before rooms of reporters and dish out a litany of misinformation and propaganda. Hard-Copy Ezra seems to be trying to service a different crowd.

In conclusion, go ahead—watch that tape with Ashley Judd! As you do, focus on that roomful of 20-something graduate students.

We were struck by how bright they are—and by the fact that they’re plainly sincere.

They aren’t stuffing millions of bucks in their pants. Just by way of possible contrast, what is Ezra doing?


  1. Waiting for the knee-jerk Liberal Pundit apologists to chime in and tell Bob how mean he is and maybe he should get over his Liberal Pundit envy and did you know Maddow wrote a book...

    (crickets chirping)

    1. ZZZZZzzzzzzzzz ....[no ideas, just snark]

  2. That is why Congress have staffs. If this highly respected Republican's staff didn't know what the White House has been proposing/saying then it's time for a staff overhaul.

  3. GOP believes their own propaganda? That doesn't seem so far-fetched. But I'm off Klein anyway.

    I found this new, fascinating, non-mandarin writer named McArdle. Read her insightful analysis of Social Security here:

    She certainly seems to believe what she's writing...does TDH?

  4. Klein basically recanted the next day:

    1. He did to his (partial) credit. But in his blog to a different audience - which only serves to reinforce Bob's point.

      Personally, I like Ezra and I've been reading him awhile. However, there's no question how his access is affecting his work. He's the future Dean Broder, IMO. Until then, though, I'll keep reading and keep valuing his contributions - albeit with a critical eye for the precise sort of failings Bob identifies here.

    2. What bears pointing out here is that Klein is supposed to be a "liberal" sort-of-pundit, but he isn't, really. He's someone who will usually follow the evidence, and his inclinations might be "liberal" -- he might be pro-choice or what have you -- but if you read him on a regular basis, his first priority is his own career, and thus, maintaining his credibility as a "serious" (ie, non-liberal) person. A Beltway "liberal" is someone who isn't, a priori, hostile to liberal ideas, but they aren't permitted to be a relentless champion of them, either: they must qualify and hem and haw, and play a lot of "on the other hands." "Liberal" pundits who don't do this are marginalized, and when they can't be successfully marginalized (Krugman), despised. So Klein was presented with overwhelming evidence that his attempt at looking reasonable was wrong, and felt he had permission to admit it and take a "liberal" position. It doesn't matter in the end, because the rules of the game haven't changed, and it's a game Klein is committed to playing, so he'll be doing it again.

      BTW, Klein is much more likely to become the new Michael Kinsley than the new David Broder. He'll likely make a nice pile by flitting about from pseudo-entrepreneurial endeavor to pseudo-entrepreneurial venture, all trading on his status as a smart, semi-liberal guy who can be trusted to say the right thing, and avoid saying the wrong thing, when it counts.

  5. There is a far greater problem in the following statement that Somerby DOESN'T put in bold:

    "KLEIN: On Thursday, I attended a background briefing with one of the most respected Republicans in Congress. The rules on these gatherings is you can’t name those involved, but you can quote them. That gives the lawmaker room to be a bit more honest without fear of immediate public reprisal."

    Folks, I submit that the biggest problem we've got with the state of both the national discourse and journalism is that politicians are allowed to get away with not owning their own words for "fear of immediate public reprisal."

    That way, they get to say any BS they want, and some "journalist" will duly type it up and publish it, quoting, of course, "a respected Republican in Congress who spoke on the condition of anonymity lest the folks back home find out how dumb he is."

    1. Agree. The rules of attribution in standard practice needs refinement.

    2. How about a return to the old rules? Used to be a day when the only time "anonymous sources" were allowed was in leads to pursue some allegations of wrong-doing, a la Watergate or the Pentagon Papers, and even then, you had to back it up before you could put it in print.

      These days, any anonymous dingbat can float anything they want without fear of being held accountable, and there will be some idiot like Drudge eager to report it.

  6. The problem is not that Republicans don't know Obama's proposals, it's that they don't understand them OR THEIR OWN.

    The theory behind Chained-CPI assumes that as prices rise and fixed incomes don't, retirees will make alternative choices that will allow them to maintain the same standard of living.

    The fallacy is that retirees have been making these alternative choices for YEARS, and the proverbial camel is now carrying a full load.

    Raising the medicare eligibility age will cost taxpayers MORE.

    When impecunious retirees have to keep buying more expensive private health insurance for several more years, ACA will subsidize the higher prices that insurance companies pay to providers.

    Means test? What's to prevent the means test from becoming a new source of revenue?
    Politicians can gradually creep the cutoff point down and down as costs go up and up, protecting the "job creators" from tax increases.

    Quick political fixes have a tendency to linger on forever.

    Just ask our Supreme Court justices, which have decided that some constitutional laws have outlived their usefulness.

    1. Means testing is just a way of turning Medicare (and Social Security) from a universal entitlement to an endlessly demonizable welfare program. Just wait for the stories of strapping old bucks buying T-bone steaks with their Medicare reimbursements. Slightly raising the tax rate on the wealthy would have the same fiscal effect as means-testing (the rich would pay more tax instead of getting less benefit) without politically undermining the foundation of these entitlement programs.