Washington wonk Ezra Klein at the Drew Forum.

Klein just announced he’s starting a new media venture called Vox. Photos by Lynne DeLade
Klein just announced he’s starting a new media venture called Vox. Photos by Lynne DeLade

President Obama’s televised 2014 State of the Union address drew low ratings and was not well received, but his message that he will act with or without Congress was a “fascinating” illustration of the political polarization paralyzing Congress, Washington blogger Ezra Klein told an audience at The Drew Forum lecture series Jan. 29.

“We want our parties to work together, but they act like football teams. We have set up a game where you hit the other guys as hard as you can. You have a system where you need political cooperation to get anything done, but the minority party has both the incentive and power to make the majority party fail. If we want American politics to work different, we have to change the rules of the game,” he said.

Still, “Congress is not the only place where folks can get things done. Authority bleeds out, to the Fed, the courts, the executive branch, independent agencies,” said Klein, 29, founder of the Washington Post’s popular Wonkblog, who recently announced he is about to launch a new digital news organization. And he said that gridlock should not obscure the legislation passed early during Obama’s first term: “It was a period of legislative intensity and accomplishment. As a result we are now reshaping health care, how we regulate the financial sector and the energy sector.”

Klein, a youthful figure addressing a mostly mature audience, began his lecture by asking the audience, “How’s it going?” He referred to New Jersey’s governor twice, defining “gridlock” as “What Chris Christie does to people he doesn’t like,” and using Christie as an example of how swiftly political fortunes can fall. During a Q & A he joked that New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s low profile since his election was consistent with time-honored tradition for numerous Senate newcomers seen as rising stars. “Have you seen Al Franken lately? It’s possible he’s dead,” Klein said.

He declined to predict what lay ahead for Hillary Clinton. “Any time someone like me is up here and begins telling you something confidently about 2016, it’s bullshit. You guys have almost as much information on Hillary Clinton as I do.”—Mary Jo Patterson