From The Week
Tomorrow night, The Week will award Jonathan Chait (of The New Republic), best columnist; Ezra Klein (of The Washington Post), best blogger; and Rob Rogers (of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), best cartoonist, at The Week’s 7th annual Opinion Awards in Washington, D.C. Special guest at The Week’s Opinion Awards will be White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. For the live webcast of Emanuel’s remarks, award ceremony and panel on “Battle for the Soul of a Party,” please visit: [this site] (and if you want to tweet with us, follow @TheWeek and use #OpinionAwards].
I thought you would be interested in the Q&A with Jonathan Chait and Eric Effron, executive editor of The Week, that will be part of the printed program and available at the Opinion Awards tomorrow night. Feel free to preview the event or use as you’d like. If you prefer the PDF of the Q&A or entire booklet, let me know and I’ll be happy to send along.
EXCERPT FROM 2010 Opinion Awards Program:
Q: Eric Effron, executive editor, The Week: Do you consider yourself a partisan?
A: Jonathan Chait: By my definition, no. American parties have grown more ideologically coherent, especially on domestic issues, where most political fights center on the federal government intervening to correct market failures on behalf of people who lack economic power. On those issues, I side with the Democrats virtually 100 percent of the time, and since those are the main areas of contention between the two parties, I vote accordingly. It would take a freak event, like John McCain’s near-hostile takeover of the GOP in 2000, for me to support a Republican. But on foreign policy, the party divide is far less clear, and especially given my somewhat hawkish tendencies, I side with the Democrats much less often.
To me, the important definition of being “partisan” is whether you side with one party regularly on issues that don’t reflect your ideology. For instance, process issues. I’ve ridiculed organs like The Wall Street Journal editorial page for, say, railing against recess appointments as an affront to democracy during Democratic administrations, but demanding more of them during Republican administrations. I try very hard to be consistent on those questions. I mocked the Democrats for defending the filibuster as some essential democratic ideal in 2005.
Likewise, I am careful to point out that Republicans are not doing anything morally wrong by taking advantage of Senate filibuster rules. If you don’t like the outcome, change the rules; don’t blame a party for using the rules to its advantage. Process issues are where you smoke out the distinction between people with coherent ideological views on policy and simple partisans.
Q: Your columns can be pointed and even biting, but you don’t come across as angry. How would you describe your temperament?
A: I wrote a humor column in high school and at the University of Michigan, but I became more interested in politics because the absurd left-wing politics in Ann Arbor made for such an irresistible target. But that still shapes my mentality. Dave Barry once defined a sense of humor as “a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason.” That’s my sensibility. If you can accept that this is the reality and it’s not going to change, there’s no point in being angry about it.
Q: In our polarized political/media culture, a lot of opinion writing seems to be a matter of preaching to the choir. Do you take any particular pleasure in challenging liberal orthodoxy?
A: No more and no less than challenging the Right. I’m not picking fights with the Left just to pick fights, but I’m not shying away. The internet has a bit of a gang feel to it sometimes, where bloggers belong to a team, and when they get into a brawl, their friends get their backs. I try to keep my distance from that dynamic. I’ll criticize writers whose work I normally admire, and I don’t mind if they do the same to me.
Q: There’s a lot of carping from both the Right and the Left about the mainstream media. What’s your take on the quality of journalism today?
A: There are a lot of problems with the news media. The biggest one is that for political news reporters and editors, even a tenuous understanding of public policy is not considered an important qualification, and indeed the job often weeds out people who do have a grasp of the substance. That said, the media have responded a bit to some of the criticism, and the overall quality of reporting at elite institutions like The New York Times is better than ever. Below that level, the quality has fallen off a cliff.
Q: Are you ever tempted to not write something you believe, out of concern that it could hurt a cause you support—health reform, say?
A: Never. That’s totally contrary to my role as a journalist. Besides, I don’t believe I have any real influence anyway. Influence is not what I’m after.
Q: If not influence, then what?
A: Catharsis. We live in a world ruled by ignorance and hypocrisy. I’m incapable of refraining from talking back to the world. As long as I get to have my say, I’m happy. The world can go on in ignorance, but I’ve had my say. My work makes me extremely content.
And, Bill Falk, Editor-in-Chief of The Week, has this to say about Jonathan Chait: “Jonathan Chait’s writing has two rare qualities that are rarer still when found in combination: a razor-sharp ability to cut through complexity and a fine sense of the absurd. Whether the topic is something as dry as Keynesian economics or as emotionally loaded as gay marriage, he manages to illuminate the heart of the matter even as he provokes occasional barks of surprised laughter. Both are services for which we readers can be grateful.”
On Ezra Klein, Opinion Award Best Blogger, this is some of what The Week has to say (additional commentary in program):
“Ingesting a historic, 2-foot-high work of legislation and translating it into clear, accessible prose is a great public service. But no policy exists free of politics, and here too, Klein was more than up to the task. He successfully guided readers through the dizzying political machinations, putting the politics in context but keeping the policy in focus–and central. He grabbed hold of one of Washignton’s most slippery stories and never let go. What’s more, this 25 year-old blogger made policy cool, a feat that bodes well for the future of blogging.”