Revolt of the wonks

Did Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein and their companions stop being liberals?

Topics: Jacobin, Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein,

Revolt of the wonks
This article originally appeared on Jacobin.

Once upon a time, hope was scarce and darkness everywhere. People looked for heroes. During the worst years of the Bush administration, we found them. They weren’t big or brawny, but they had heart. A bunch of nerdy kids blogging about politics were here to save the day.

Jacobin Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein and their companions were fearless — but, beyond that, analytical. They knew how to use graphs and the Internet, bringing an earnest quantitative approach that would make liberals the Very Serious People of the Digital Age. Even the media establishment had nice things to say about our protagonists.

There seemed to be something different about this band, an idealism that blended the resurgent youth activism that rallied behind Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign and against the Iraq War with the liberal “netroots” culture that developed alongside it. Their popularity grew as they were absorbed into the media ecosystem. Klein’s writing moved from his eponymous Typepad to the American Prospect to the pages of the Washington Post. Yglesias also got his break at the Prospect and ended up at Slate.

But at some point, Klein and company stopped being liberals. They even stopped being human. The singularity— a technological superintelligence — was upon us. The wonks had become robots, ready to force enlightenment down our partisan throats.

In science fiction, cybernetic revolts often begin benevolently. Humans are fallible, petty, prone to argument and war. Synthetics are precise, dispassionate, above jealousy and strife. Wouldn’t our interests be better served kneeling at the altar of disinterested judgment?



Klein wielded his new legitimacy with a simple, high-minded goal: to construct policy to benefit the greatest number. To this end, he went rummaging through the marketplace of ideas. He even sampled those of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), interviewing him in three parts and lauding his “honest entry into the debate” in a 2010 Washington Post piece titled “The virtues of Ryan’s roadmap.” In the same venue a few months later, Klein defended Ryan against attack by the far-from radical Paul Krugman. Klein pushed back against Ryan’s individual points here and there, but his mechanical mind failed to realize that the congressman was playing a different game—a far more dynamic and ideological one—than he was. The blogger wanted to tinker with numbers to make Washington run smoother; Ryan wanted to use data to obscure a different mission: ending the welfare state.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    "Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>