American journalist, blogger, columnist and St. Olaf Political Awareness Committee’s PAC’s spring speaker Ezra Klein visited St. Olaf College’s Boe Chapel on Wednesday, April 24, to discuss with students, faculty and community members why “the city in which I work, live [and] raise dogs […] is horrible.”
The “horrible” city to which Klein referred so colorfully in the opening of his speech is Washington D.C. He developed a speech revolving around the relationships both within and between the American public, the mass media and, most importantly, the increasingly partisan national Congress, claiming that “polarized parties break the American political system.”
Klein’s speech included flashy and humorous slides of charts, graphs and cartoons projected onto a large screen behind him to emphasize his points. He quickly turned his speech over to the audience for a prolonged question and answer session.
Klein played his role as the young, hubristic journalist well. As PAC Coordinator Kevin George ’13 read off Klein’s accolades, including his successful role as manager of the Washington Post‘s “Wonkblog” a contributor-based forum that covers various facets of policy development and his work as contributor for both “Bloomberg” and numerous outlets at MSNBC, Klein utilized the backlit projection system to create silhouettes of himself kissing his muscles and standing in superhero stances.
“Ezra is very engaging,” said George, when asked why Klein was chosen for as the PAC spring speaker. “He’s young, up-and-coming and accessible.” Additionally, George noted, PAC has not brought in an economic voice since before the recession.
While Klein did not focus his speech on the particulars of economics, these principles were implicitly present throughout his presentation. According to Klein, the reason that budgeting has become so difficult for the government as a whole stems from the prevailing polarized political system.
“We are not more polarized today as a people than we were 50 years ago,” Klein said. “However, we are a more polarized political system. The purpose of the majority is to govern the nation. The purpose of the minority is now to simply become the majority.”
Klein blamed divergent discourses on the sequester, budget disputes and health care reform on this lack of bipartisanship and then continued to blame the media for putting too much focus on “the man in the White House,” instead of the individual members of Congress who should, in theory, hold control of policy and development.
“Some people believe we should look at the American political system like ‘underpants gnomes,'” said Klein, referring to a 1998 “South Park” episode in which curious gnomes make an over-simplified business strategy that ultimately makes little sense. “They believe that step one is that the president should lead. Step two is merely a bunch of question marks. Step three? Profit. Obviously this is flawed.”
Klein spent a large portion of the allotted time fielding questions from audience members. They were interested in matters ranging from the elaborate role of the media in elections to how potential educators should approach good citizenship within the classroom. Klein’s responses were at times snide, at other times brutally honest and occasionally, as when a student asked how to fix the broken political system, he simply couldn’t give an answer.
Klein’s visit to St. Olaf began and ended with more intimate meetings with students, including a dinner with members of PAC and, following his speech, a reception with faculty members and students interested in politics and media.
“His whole presentation was very non-partisan,” said Chiamaka Isiguzo ’14, a PAC member, following the speech. “He wasn’t trying to dumb things down for us, but he certainly got his ideas across. I recognize now why the system is broken.”