Millennials are being called the most progressive generation ever; they believe in civic responsibility and their own ability to make change. Through blogs, tweets and Facebook movements, Millennials are staging a cyber coup d'etat that's forcing their way to the decision-making table. One of the leaders in this informational crusade is undoubtedly Washington Post's Ezra Klein. To many bloggers, Ezra's wonkaliciousness is addictive -- he is our Yoda.
Klein's popular Washington Post blog, "Wonkbook," focuses on empiricism instead of ideological posturing to engage readers in progressive dialogue. He's an influential, fresh and oft-quoted voice in Washington, D.C. -- arguably the most competitive ideas arena in the world. In his frequent TV appearances, Klein is able to deftly crystallize an issue without seeming canned or esoteric. Whether it's health care or Social Security, when he writes people tune in. That's an unparalleled feat in a vociferous city full of both legitimate and self-anointed experts, most of who have at least 20 years on him.
Natalia Brzezinski: What does being a Millennial mean to you?
Ezra Klein: It doesn't mean much. I'm afraid you're going to be a bit disappointed with me in this interview but I don't really subscribe to generational typologies. I don't think there's much you can say about "Millennials." What is unique about this period are the technological opportunities, specifically the ability to communicate in a more intimate and less hierarchical manner. My career wouldn't exist without blogs, electronic text, hyperlinks, and mass online audiences.
You designate the internet as something that's shaping the moment in America. Globally, social networking also seems to be blossoming into a strident form of political activism. In Serbia, Kenya, Ukraine and most vividly with the Green movement in Iran, young people are finding their political voices through their laptops. Do you think this has the potential to create lasting political and institutional change?
The jury is out. Let me note that I'm not an expert in this topic. Obviously Twitter wasn't enough for the Green Revolution in Iran, but I'm always very careful not to underestimate the power of technological change. If twittering was able to give the Green Movement an added 10-15% level of strength -- that isn't nothing. I also imagine we'll see a lot of subtler pushes towards freedom. Most of Africa will soon be connected by mobile communication. What that'll do to their economy and ability to coordinate and move information around will matter, even if it doesn't manifest through revolutions.
Some Millennials connected very strongly with the election and narrative of President Barack Obama. What do you think is the most important thing the president has done for Millennials?
Again, I don't want to limit the scope to just young people. Health care was monumental; and the combination of TARP and the stimulus package saved the economy. The thing to remember about being young is you eventually get old. It's not a good idea to conceptualize a static relationship with long-standing policies, like health care. Yes, you're young and healthy now but that may not be the case in 20 or 30 years.
Some say that "the era of job security is over", and that Millennials will be living in a very different professional reality where they may never have a stable job or do as well as their parents did. Do you think that's true?
I don't know. There are very good reasons to be concerned. But it's also always easier to be pessimistic. You could've said that very statement at many other points in U.S. history, and you would've been wrong. Warren Buffett has a great saying: "In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497." Tomorrow's economic boom is very difficult to predict. So is there reason to worry? Yes. But that isn't as predictive as some suggest.
Who do you admire?
When I first came to Washington, what I admired most was that people were just really, really smart with a tremendous amount of intellectual horsepower and the ability to look at an issue and say something fresh. Now I admire those who are wise as opposed to just smart. By wise I mean that they're able to keep a cool head when others can't, and can assess the softer, human sides of a situation to come to a more balanced determination. Ronald Brownstein and James Fallows from The Atlantic are writers who have that trait and who I admire greatly.
What's your schedule like?
I wake up at 6am; write and edit "Wonkbook," then work out and write my blog from about 8 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m.. Some evenings I do TV, or have various events so the day can be quite long.
What's the most challenging aspect of your job?
I find there are challenges in my work and challenges in the moment we're living in. I write 12-15 blogs a day; sometimes it can be difficult to sustain a line of thought. One has to be vigilant about not getting caught up in the echo chamber or using the same sources over and over. It's also hard to be a policy writer in a culture where electoral and political incentives are dominant. Folks on both sides of the aisle can be more concerned with how something looks politically than factually.
This interview is the second in a series called "Millennial Perspectives." Read the first profile of 2010 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist and Dancing with the Stars finalist Evan Lysacek here.
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