Part 2—Without a thing to say: To what extent is youth being served at the new improved Washington Post?
Again, consider the remarkable way one young Postman describes himself at his eponymous blog.
“About Me,” this young scribe’s headline says. By conventional standards, the following profile borders on the insane:
About MeIn fact, Soltas is a freshman at Princeton; this explains why he only intends to major in economics. Having said that, please note the strange juxtaposition of claims found in that short profile:
Evan Soltas is the writer of Wonkbook, the morning email newsletter of Ezra Klein's Wonkblog at The Washington Post, and for Bloomberg View's "The Ticker" blog. A student at Princeton University, where he intends to major in economics, Evan blogs daily on economic news, policy, and research findings—and a variety of other topics, approaching the subject as a student and not as an expert.
On the one hand, Soltas approaches economics “as a student...not as an expert” when he blogs at his own site. On the other hand, he is also “the writer of Wonkbook, the morning email newsletter of Ezra Klein's Wonkblog at The Washington Post!”
Do the suits at the Washington Post know that a college freshman composed a major daily post at their brainiest site? (Supposedly, Wonkblog is the place where the Post still provides information. It’s called Wonkblog to make you think that the people who write it are smart.) Do they know that their college freshman writes as a student, not as an expert, at his own eponymous site?
In fairness, it’s always possible that some college freshman could do policy work on the level expected of the nation’s most famous political newspaper. Mozart played a mean piano when he was 5, after all.
That said, it’s hard to imagine that people this young would have the experience and the judgment to handle complex policy work. But increasingly, the Washington Post is giving the keys to the car to a string of under-aged players.
Ezra Klein is the most famous such figure. How strong is his work?
Last week, Klein composed a series of posts about the three new budget plans which emerged from Congress. In a word, his work was awful.
Klein’s work rarely made clear sense. It often seemed to be rushed, in the time-honored manner of college students who didn’t quite get around to reading the text.
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the blizzard of posts he offered about the budget proposal offered by Senate Democrats. Last Tuesday evening at 5 PM, he offered a full-length post on this new budget proposal. By Wednesday morning at 10:28, he was offering his third full-length post, apologizing for the “important way” in which he “shortchanged” this budget in his first two posts.
Everybody makes mistakes, but this pattern wasn’t impressive. That said, let’s look at how inept—Might we even say sophomoric?—his original post really was.
Klein’s first post about this budget appeared beneath a puzzling headline. Here you see his headline and his opening paragraphs, in which the wunderkind offered a familiar yet thoroughly vacuous framework:
KLEIN (3/13/13): The Senate Democrats’ vague, conservative budgetKlein is not a freshman in college; he just writes like he is. The foolishness starts with that grabber headline, in which he claims—Could this be true?—that the Senate Democrats had produced a “conservative” budget.
The surprise when comparing the House Republicans’ budget and the Senate Democrats’ budget is just how much more conservative the Democratic effort is. I don’t mean ideologically conservative, of course. I mean conservative in the sense that the dictionary defines it: “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.”
There is little in the federal government Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) does not confidently propose to remake. Medicare becomes a voucher system in which we trust government regulators to keep private insurers in line. Medicaid and food stamps are handed over to the states. The tax code is flattened to two brackets. Ideologically speaking, these are very conservative decisions. But in the dictionary sense, they are anything but conservative decisions: Ryan’s budget is almost entirely about upending existing institutions, and his assumed savings reflect an extraordinary confidence that untested reforms will prove wildly successful.
Sen. Patty Murray’s budget, by contrast, is both a more liberal and a more traditionally conservative document. Where Ryan sees the deficit as an opportunity for historic change, Murray treats it as an economic problem that requires a modest set of spending cuts and tax increases to solve. Where Ryan’s proposed deficit-reduction path is fast and severe, Murray moves slowly and cautiously. Where Ryan wants to remake the state and balance the budget, Murray just wants to stabilize and reduce the debt.
But even given that difference in objective, Murray’s budget is deeply, even excessively, respectful of existing institutions. If the problem of Ryan’s budget is that it wants to do far too much, the problem with Murray’s budget is that it is almost entirely devoted to saying what it won’t do, and it gets very vague when the topic turns to what it will.
Could that really be true? Had Senate Democrats really produced a “conservative” budget? Once we’ve been conned into reading this drivel, Klein tells us what he means by that claim:
He means their budget is conservative “in the sense that the dictionary defines it.” In that sense, their budget is "much more conservative” than Congressman Ryan’s budget!
College freshmen have been inventing such frameworks since the dawn of time. Typically, they play these games when they have nothing of value to say about their subject. Through the use of such frameworks, they give the impression that something-or-other has been said.
Inexorably, they work their way toward their required word count.
In this case, nothing of value has been said; Klein’s framework is massively fatuous. According to Klein, the Democratic budget is “much more conservative” than Ryan’s budget in the dictionary sense of the term, in the sense that it desires “to limit change.”
Right in his opening sentence, our pipe-puffing poser refers to this contrast as surprising—but why would anyone be surprised by this distinction? “There is little in the federal government” that Ryan does not “propose to remake,” Klein writes. Stating the obvious, he also says that Ryan “wants to do far too much.”
Why then would it be a surprise if the Democratic budget left more existing institutions in place? In truth, it isn’t surprising at all—unless you’re a college freshman who has nothing else to say.
Go ahead! If punishment is your personal preference, plow your way through Klein’s first post about this budget proposal. In truth, the youngster had virtually nothing to say about the Senate Democratic proposal, but he seemed to feel that he was required to say it.
For that reason, you see a link at the end of this post: “What I got wrong about the Senate Democrats’ budget.” In fact, Klein got a lot wrong about that budget. As you will see if you read that third post, he didn’t even mention “the highest priority” which that budget clearly states.
So it goes when college kids with nothing to say hurry to meet their deadlines.
Klein is not a college kid. At age 28, he’s one of the greybeards of the press corps’ new youth movement. That said, he’s one of the most successful of this new brigade.
Based on his work in recent weeks, he’s also one of the most worthless. Last week, we read his various posts about the three new budgets which emerged from the Congress. His work was murky, pointless, confusing—basically worthless throughout.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at more of this blizzard of drivel. Before the week is done, we’ll even examine the work of others who serve in this youth brigade. But we liberals are being sold this drivel under the guise of Very Big Smarts.
Every morning, the Washington Post invites you to read the work of an unaccomplished college freshman! Go ahead—tell the truth:
On its face, does that seem smart?
Tomorrow: Drivel all the way down