I don’t spend much time at Outside The Beltway any more. It’s become like the old line about Playboy Magazine — “I hardly ever look at it, and only for the articles.” The comments section has become a leftist sewer that would fit right in over at what used to be LGF. But the articles are still, occasionally, worth noting.
Today, James Joyner reacts to the news that liberal blogger and wunderkind Ezra Klein has been giving top-secret briefings to Congressional staffers. He points out that this is hardly some gross violation of ethics; Klein has always been openly partisan, is highly intelligent, and — like most people — would like to have some sway over policy. There’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing, really.
All true, but James misses the point. The point is that this is Klein’s modus operandi, and it needs to be exposed: he’s supposed to be a partisan guy, but he gets the movers and shakers, along with the alleged non-partisan types, into his secret cabals where they coordinate messages and signals and plans behind closed doors. He did this with JournoList, and now he’s doing it on Capitol Hill.
Let me spell it out: the problem isn’t that Klein is trying this, it’s that he’s succeeding. And the problem isn’t with him, but those who go along with it.
Blaming Klein for this is like blaming a man who seduces a married woman. (Or woman who seduces a married man, but let’s keep things tidy here.) The seducer is not violating any vows or betraying any loyalties; he’s merely enabling the other party to do so. I think that what Klein is doing is of questionable ethics, but not enough to call him out on it. Hell, if anything, I’m a touch envious, and I am not an envious person normally.
No, the problem is with some of those who are participating with him. They have duties — duties towards non-partisanship, duties toward openness, duties toward fairness and objectivity. In the JouroList mess, allegedly independent folks were working behind the scenes to unify their spin, to make their efforts seem more universal and spontaneous, and to refine and improve these messages to make them sell better. And with Klein giving “briefings” to Congressional staffers, those folks who wield a hell of a lot more power than most folks realize, who the hell knows what is going to happen?
In the end, I can’t condemn Klein. He’s just doing what a lot of us would do, given half the chance. That he’s succeeded so well is testimony to his own abilities and gifts. And, sadly, to the sad state of affairs that lets him succeed so well.
There’s an old saw that you can’t con an innocent men — because all cons, at their core, depend on the greed of the mark and the mark thinking that they are going to get something for nothing. Likewise, you can’t seduce a faithful spouse. There has to be an element of corruption there to begin with, or all the best efforts are for nought.
In Klein’s case, it’s one of those rare cases where the old cliche’ “it’s the system’s fault” meets the new cliche’ “don’t hate the playa, hate the game” apply. It’s not Klein’s fault that he’s so good at playing the game; it’s the fault of the rest of us who let the game get so corrupt, and let it continue.