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I Endorse

I've not wanted to say much about the Washington Post's "America's Next Top Pundit" contest. In part, I'm worried my opinion could be construed as self-serving. Or insulting. Or something. Who needs the trouble?

But Jim Henley's entry changed my mind. The Washington Post kicked its contest off last week. But there's already a long-running and inordinately successful competition going on around it. It's called the blogosphere. And the thing about the blogosphere is it's actually a much better judge of certain crucial characteristics of a pundit.

The blogosphere's advantage comes from something simple: It's not a contest. If you "win," you don't get a job at The Washington Post (well, I actually did get a job at The Washington Post, but I assure you that that was an unexpected outcome). You just get readers. You get heard. It tests, in other words, not whether you want to be famous -- no blogger got in expecting a gig on an op-ed page -- but whether you feel some underlying need to speak, and are willing to dig into your own time and your own energy and your own resources to keep going, without any real prospect for compensation and any real guarantee of success. An op-ed writer knows he'll be read because he's on an op-ed page. A blogger has no similar guarantee. Success is unlikely, obscurity is virtually assured, and either way, it's all on you.

The other advantage is that it tests longevity. It's easy to write eight great columns, or 12 great blog posts. It's hard to keep up quality day after day, week after week, year after year. Very few people have the candlepower to think fresh thoughts for that long. Over a long period of time, you can see whether the blogger adapts to the demands of constant content and develops the ability to keep his blog fresh, or not.

With all that said, I'm officially throwing my endorsement behind Jim Henley. I don't share Henley's political beliefs, or even his interests. He's a conservative foreign policy wonk, and I am none of those things. We are not friends in real life, and he doesn't have me on his blog roll. So my impartiality is assured. But he is a dazzlingly fresh thinker and a gorgeous writer, and has been doing this since October 2001. He's proven himself, in other words, and he'd be an asset to The Post's op-ed page for a long time to come.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 1, 2009; 10:28 AM ET
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And if there's one thing the Washington Post editorial page is missing, surely it's a voice advocating for conservative foreign policy.


Posted by: adamiani | October 1, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

In fairness, the WaPo lacks for sane, compelling voices advocating for a conservative foreign policy with a modicum of honesty. But it's true that the WaPo's greater lack is for liberal Op-Ed voices.

Posted by: WarrenTerra | October 1, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I agree wholeheartedly with your premise, Ezra, that there are ideal candidates in the "blogosphere" for this position. However, adamiani beat me to the comment I was going to make. The Washington Post has been trending steadily rightward in recent years. The last thing we need is another conservative pundit. My vote would be Digby, but then she's a DFH, so there's no chance of that.

Posted by: durangodave | October 1, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Though, Ezra might be acting out the Robert Frost quote to the effect that a liberal is a person unwilling to take their own side in an argument. Why not risk conflict of interest and name a liberal?

Posted by: WarrenTerra | October 1, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Oh, I recognize both of y'all B-Jers. And, yes, sadly I agree that the WaPo editorial page is likely to add another conservative. They seem to view thoughtful liberal writing like Spinal Tap, as a much-needed void. Glennzilla was unusually succinct with: The Post Op-Ed page is Ground Zero for defending every corrupt and destructive act that plagues the country. I have no idea how someone as good as Ezra made it though, maybe he made them an astonishingly good tofu dish or something.

Posted by: Jenn2 | October 1, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

As John McEnroe might say, you cannot be serious. And as I would add, "you little suck up."

Yeah, make the Op-Ed even more right wing.

Kick your boy Yglesias to the curb because you wouldn't want to actually look like you're partial. Why not? You're an opinion writer for god's sake.

Posted by: cingularuser | October 1, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I agree about Digby -- no better progressive blogger anywhere, period.

BTW, Ezra, you don't seem to grasp just how much you've alienated your readership since you joined the Post and tacked right. You've been one of the loudest voices out there proclaiming that the public option just doesn't matter. (As the parent of a child with chronic medical issues, and someone who literally spends hours each week wrangling with a private insurance company because it wants to cut coverage of basic medications he needs to live, I feel very, very betrayed.)

You need our eyeballs in order to work at the Post or anywhere else in the blogosphere, for that matter -- and when you advocate for the other team, as you've done consistently, it really puts us off.

Posted by: scarlota | October 1, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

So Ezra thinks the contest is looking for another conservative bloviator. "This is American Idolater." Just what we need, someone else making excuses for the failure of conservative ideology, when what we really need is another making excuses for Baucus and Nelson. (Not the same thing?)

Cheezus, Ezra. Having a bad thought-day?

Posted by: PoliticalPragmatist | October 1, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Henley, conservative? You must be using some strange, non-standard definition of "conservative". Henley doesn't even call himself "libertarian" anymore - though perhaps because he regards that word as tainted by warmongers and torture apologists like Profs. Reynolds and Volokh.

Posted by: philarete | October 1, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, have you read all of the other entries?

Posted by: ErininAtlanta | October 1, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm disappointed in what I'm hearing from Ezra these past couple of days too. Yesterday, he referred to a proposal that would allow each state to opt-out of the public option "promising", repeated the meme that so-called conservatives are fiscally conservative, despite the fact that they turned enormous surpluses into deficits, and is now advocating for the corporate media to go even more corporate by hiring a hack for the military industrial complex.

I come here for information, but I'm beginning to take Ezra less seriously than I used to.

In the meantime, while we're on the subject of bloggers, the hardest working and freshest, most informative blogger in the blogosphere is Steve Benen over on the home page of Check him out for a new post about once per hour from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM on Monday through Friday and for a few additional posts most Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Posted by: cjo30080 | October 1, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I think the people getting spun up based off Ezra's (inaccurate) thumnail description of Henley as a conservative foreign policy wonk should go take a look at unqualified offerings a bit first. Heck, just read his entry.

His foreign policy views are about as far from neoconservative as you can get. He tends towards isolationism based on a Hayekian skepticism towards the efficacy of large scale government interventions.

So he might be "conservative," if you had to classify him, but his foreign policy certainly isn't. On domestic issues, again coming from a libertarian point of view, his main focus has been on civil liberties issues, again something that might be considered conservative, but certainly isn't Republican.

Posted by: dt4211 | October 1, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Oh. Well. Nevermind.

Posted by: cjo30080 | October 1, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

The people trashing Ezra Klein for having recommended "another conservative bloviator" are completely offbase, misled by Klein's bizarre characterization of Jim Henley as a "conservative foreign policy wonk," which is about as accurate as calling Digby a religious conservative.

Henley started in the blogosphere as a strongly anti-war, anti-national-security-state, anti-WarOnTerror libertarian. In the years since he started blogging, his views on things like universal healthcare have moved considerably to the left. Maximizing freedom is obviously still the lynchpin of his politics, but he's evolved a long way from the standard libertarian/conservative notion of how to make people more free.

It's true that he knows a lot about foreign policy, but that's because he's one of those autodidact bloggers who takes the time to read primary sources and dig deep into stories. Far from being a "foreign policy wonk," one of his ongoing narratives is about the long-term failure of the entire "foreign policy wonk" class, conservatives and liberals alike.

Ezra's right that he's a "dazzlingly fresh thinker and a gorgeous writer." People should check out his record before assuming that Ezra's other, strangely off-key description of the guy is correct. Top lefty blogs like Atrios and Kos have been quoting and linking to Henley for years, because the guy is genuinely original, independent-minded, and terrifically smart.

Posted by: PatrickNielsenHayden | October 1, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I think describing Henley is some kind of triple-bank shot by Ezra, to attempt to trick his dark masters at the WaPo! I can see the logic: WaPo only publishes conservative foreign policy wonks, therefore, calling Henley a conservative increases his odds of being picked.

Posted by: UberMitch | October 1, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Ezra's endorsement is just plain weird, and more of the strangeness that he has displayed since he sold out.

But he can't be serious about this public recommendation. There's no way he can preempt the Selection Committee: one representative each from: Boeing, Lockheed, Heritage, AEI, American Petroleum Institute, AHIP and the American Bankers Association; together with the following four people, who each have two votes: 1) any direct descendant of Dick Cheney; 2) the executive director of AIPAC; 3) Sally Quinn; and 4)the Saudi Ambassador to the US.

Posted by: Dollared | October 1, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Forgive me. That should be "each of whom have two votes."

Posted by: Dollared | October 1, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

People forget that before Republicans and neoconservatives entered their unholy alliance, there were old-style conservatives, of which Henley is one: skeptical of government intervention abroad, fiercely protective of civil liberties at home, and disgusted by the imperialist impulses that define our foreign policy. That's a voice that's not well-represented even among the liberals on America's op-ed pages, and should be.

And yes, people should really click through links before flipping out.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | October 1, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

And to be fair, Henley's piece is awesome - perceptive, brilliantly written and inherently patriotic. It's just that I cannot conceive of anyone with the truthtelling capability Henley displays, and the lack of respect for the sheer physical and human power that is represented by the permanent commitment of $200B/year for the anti- and counter- activities, could ever find a place in Fred Hiatt's Militarist and Rent-Seeker Daily. It is, after all, the newspaper for a company town.

Imagine the LA Times giving a regular column to a writer who advocates eliminating copyright protection for movies. You get the idea.

Posted by: Dollared | October 1, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I've never read Henley, but I agree with the things you've said about blogging. I should add, though, that there are a lot of valuable uses of blogging besides those you mentioned. One is that among academics, or any experts in a field, it's a great way to discuss, vet, and test new ideas (and old) and information, without waiting for publication, which can take years. And publications have space, format, and formality limitations which can make it hard to communicate intuition, and just all of the important ideas and information.

Blogging allows fantastic free form discussion, critique, and exchange of information among experts all over the globe in a way that would have been far more difficult and costly before blogging (for example with conferences and seminars).

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | October 1, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I've never read Ezra as saying the public option isn't important, just that it isn't the most important piece of healthcare reform and that it's getting way more attention and emotional reaction than it should. People have hitched their decision on whether the bill "succeeds" or not to whether there is a public option. I've understood Ezra to be saying that there are other things which can have a greater impact on improving out healthcare system, but that he does support a public option. Agree with him or not, I don't think that qualifies as selling out.

Posted by: MosBen | October 1, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Ezra: "...yes, people should really click through links before flipping out."

No, they shouldn't. The links are great for when we have the time and inclination, but the blogger's post should stand alone.

Thanks to those who were already familiar with Henley's work for clarifying on Ezra's behalf.

Posted by: cjo30080 | October 1, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

so really, this blog thing worked pretty well. Ezra made a point and supplied links. His tremendously valuable commenters added greatly to Ezra's seed piece, as we count on them to do. Ezra even found himself pulled back into the thread.

The original point is now greatly rounded and enriched, and I'm off to read some entries.

Posted by: rosshunter | October 1, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I really think the government should offer some kind of subsidy to unsuccessful bloggers such as myself. I mean, I'm supplying a vital public service at no charge. There are all kind of free rider problems going on here. Let's say the plan gave out 10 bucks a word. The government in one stroke of a pen could give thousands of people viable jobs. And of course, all that blogging would make us wildly more educated. Think about the multiplier. For each word written, I probably create 20 or 30 dollars of wealth.

Posted by: nathanjfscott | October 1, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Many years ago, Jim Henley described himself as a "my sister" libertarian who thought that something shouldn't be illegal unless you believed that your sister (or brother) should go to jail for doing it. I can't link to all the relevant posts here, but if you google libertarianism +"my sister" on his site then you can read about how he used to describe his political views.

Posted by: you-dont | October 2, 2009 12:19 AM | Report abuse

"I come here for information, but I'm beginning to take Ezra less seriously than I used to."

Yes, it's tragic when a pundit doesn't simply echo back to you what you already think.

Posted by: gcallah | October 2, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I have to second Ezra's views of Henley...but then I'm biased, being married to him and all. But I will tell you this: I have never met a more intelligent, curious iconoclast, who cares fiercely about his country, among other things. The Washington Post would be lucky to have him.

Posted by: bravegirl01 | October 2, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Henley is also widely and accurately credited with the greatest blog post ever:

Posted by: mccleary1 | October 2, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Ezra-- you're right, you should NOT have commented at all on the Post's competition for "America's Next Top Pundit." After being impressed with your intelligent analytical approach to issues, I find this particular blog post is disappointing because of its unthoughtful perspective. I am astounded that your view is that no one can be a good pundit unless they have already been discovered and have a long track record. That strikes me as very narrow-minded.

Posted by: zippyzeph | October 3, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

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