Lectures Coordination Board brought its first big-name speaker to campus last Sunday, Nov. 9, when political blogger Ezra Klein spoke in Kagin.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of vox.com, Klein rose to fame through his work at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, which focuses on health care and budget policy. He addressed a moderately-full Hill Ballroom in a talk that reframed and contextualized polarization in Washington politics.
Earlier this year the Lectures Communication Board (LCB) sent a survey to the student body seeking suggestions for speakers, and many respondents expressed interest in bringing a political speaker to campus. Because of that interest, the LCB booked Klein as their fall speaker.
Overall, “students, staff and faculty at the event were engaged and interested in what Ezra had to say,” Annie Gurvis ’15, a member of the LCB, said.
President Brian Rosenberg introduced Klein and outlined his various accolades, which included being named The Week’s 2010 Blogger of the Year and one of GQ’s 50 Most Powerful People in Washington for 2011. Klein achieved all this before he turned 30, which is “very depressing,” Rosenberg quipped.
Klein took the microphone from Rosenberg with a show of mock arrogance.
“I sound unbelievably awesome,” Klein said. “It’s amazing what I’ve achieved.”
He went on to discuss “what everyone gets wrong about Washington gridlock,” with the aid of a PowerPoint and engaging, sometimes colorful, speech.
Polarization “does not mean people being dicks,” Klein said. “That is not the definition of polarization.”
Rather, Klein demonstrated how a system of political parties that are ideologically unified is a relatively recent development in the United States, and how this zero-sum nature of American politics results in gridlock.
Klein explained that by the established rules of American government, politics are operating exactly as they should: the majority’s function is to govern, and the minority’s function is to become the majority. But currently, “the minority has both the incentive and the power to make the majority fail.” As such, electing new politicians into Congress won’t change the overall system because they’ll continue playing by the rules.
Klein compared this to a football game, saying players do not want to hurt another player but find a need to so because they cannot succeed without doing so.
“If you want to change the game, change the rules,” Klein said.
Klein also outlined how much of the polarization in American politics is a result of Congress, rather than the President. While liberals tend to invest energy in presidential elections, conservatives often turn out to elect representatives at midterm elections, which is why the recent elections saw Congress overtaken by Republicans and why government is often divided on a long-term basis.
“The breakdown in American politics, and I cannot stress this enough, is centered in Congress,” Klein said.
After the formal talk ended, the room opened up for a question and answer session in which several audience members participated.
In response to a question about how he’d personally change American politics, Klein discussed reforms he would implement that would make it easier for the majority to govern, but not necessarily easier for the minority to become the majority.
He recognized that the solutions he proposed are limited, however, conceding that “my diagnosis of the problem is on surer ground than my solution.”
Klein also got the chance to talk about his wife, New York Magazine journalist Annie Lowrey, the trajectory of his career and how he ended up in his current role.
The question and answer session was followed by a VIP reception in the Weyerhaeuser Boardroom, in which a handful of students, faculty and staff socialized with Klein.
While LCB members were pleased with the event overall, they recognized the event could have had stronger turnout.
“I thought turnout could have been much higher. I wish that more people had been there, because I think Ezra spoke very well on issues that the student body is interested in, and it would have been great if more people had heard what he had to say,” Gurvis said.
Zane Vorhes-Gripp ’17, another LCB member, seconded Gurvis.
“I do hope that at the next LCB event there is a higher turnout; I think that the timing may have been an issue, in terms of turnout, because some people may have wanted to go but didn’t because they had too much homework,” Vorhes-Gripp said.
The LCB held a follow-up event yesterday afternoon to solicit feedback and suggestions for the next speaker. In addition, Gurvis said the LCB will try to book subsequent events farther in advance (Klein was confirmed only weeks before the scheduled date) and ensure that the student body has a strong interest in the speaker.
“Like we did this semester, [we] will do our best to bring in a speaker [next semester] that the student body has requested and someone that has voice or facial recognition among the student body,” Gurvis said.