October 3, 2014

Welcome to the #AskTIME Subscriber Q and A with TIME political columnist, Joe Klein. Joe is currently on his annual road trip, which has taken him on a Southern swing to North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky, where he has been talking politics at town meetings, political rallies, meet-and-greets, and at Lansky Brothers, the “Clothier to the King.”

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yogi, asks, you used to do a lot more reporting on events occurring in Afghanistan (with actual travel to there). How do you see the situation playing out in Afghanistan once the remaining troops pull out in 2016? Is the government stable enough to hold off the consistently reforming Taliban? Will we actually ever leave now with the events in Iraq and ISIS? If we do, will we as a nation be able to say it was worth it or a Vietnam redux?

Yogi—I got old, stopped traveling to war zones. I’m actually not entirely pessimistic about Afghanistan. I think the new president Ashraf Ghani is a solid managerial sort. I suspect that Afghan National Army will hold its own against the Taliban, since they are natural ethnic enemies. And Afghanistan has agreed to allow American advisors to stay on and train the troops for a while. I suspect there will be a low-grade civil war in perpetuity or at least until the two sides get tired of fighting. But I’d be surprised if the Taliban simply overran the country.

PaulDirks asks, I know that you like to view yourself as a “reasonable” center-left voice but when you actually write it often seems that your efforts to provide balance actually come off as contrived and implausible. Since we are both old enough to remember when there was such a thing as a reasonable Republican, are you ever just tempted to say ‘bag it’ and start writing unadulterated attack pieces?

Aw c’mon Paul. Your sense of contrived and implausible is…well, contrived and implausible. My views are my views. I truly do not believe either side has a monopoly on the truth. I’M amazed by the complexity of the issues every time I go out to report them. And as for unadultered attacks, I think calling David Perdue’s ads against Michelle Nunn “hilariously despicable” was sort of untrammeled on my part.

DonQuixotic asks, Joe, instead of taking a road trip through the south to speak at town halls, do you think it would be more informative to take an international road trip (flight trip?) to hear opinions on America from abroad?

Don—I do that, too. Hoping to visit Israel and other places in the Middle East later this fall. I once took a (very supervised) road trip through China. It was a blast…but I find tremendous value in the time I spend on the road in the US.

MrObvious asks, How do you look at journalism, as a vehicle to tell a story about the facts as close as we can get it, or to speculate about the moving pieces we can’t see or might not even happen? Is there such a thing as ‘1 single argument’ or does it always have to reflect a muddled 360 degree of maybe?

Well, there are different types of stories. I’M a columnist, so part of my job is to tell you what I think…but I usually need to go out and see a situation on the ground, in order to write about it. The situation on the ground is almost always more complicated. Life is complicated and, to use your word, muddled. I began learning that when I covered busing in Boston in the early 1970s.

Mantisdragon asks, Who has less journalistic credibility a blatantly propaganda network like FOX or MSNBC or a network like CNN that attempts to be so bland and inoffensive as to please no one?

I’ve seen all three networks do really valuable journalism…and really stupid stuff, too. Simplicity is what works best on television and so a simple political point of view, left or right, makes for more compelling tv. I think it’s a real problem. That’s why I like appearing on Morning Joe—it’s opinionated, but unpredictable.

DonQuixotic aks, Joe, in your recent stories The Border and Obama and Missed Chance on Immigration, you seem to suggest that the true fault lies with Obama for not pushing through some form of immigration reform. In the latter story, despite opening with some colored commentary about an interaction you had with a bizarre conspiracy theorist, you even went so far as to say “But he (Obama) has abandoned the high ground and seems a bit panicky now, dodging immigration reform even though he believes in it, thereby offending all sides. There are various explanations, none of them very noble, for Obama’s diminishing ability to convince anyone of anything”. Do you honestly believe that’s a fair assessment?

Don—You misread me. I agree with Obama substantively on immigration. But he appears to have gotten cynical and/or careless lately. I don’t like to hear a President say he’s changed his timing on an issue “because the politics has changed.” I’ve been disappointed that the President has followed his consultants and not made a clear moral argument—or told the entire truth—on a variety of issues. Most people, for example, don’t know that the President has been really tough on border security. Most people don’t know that the Affordable Care Act targets the working poor, not the indigent. I think there’s been a real failure to communicate. A “natural” politician would have found ways to convey the complexity of these issues, even in the face of an unprincipled, oversimplifying opposition.

nflfoghorn asks, Racism is still a problem throughout the world, not just in the land where you make road trips. It must be passed down and taught from generation to generation. Do you, Joe, still see any overt racism against your Semitic heritage in this country? And how do you think others perceive the influx of Central Americans into our country – are they sympathetic to their plight or do they figure, hey, it’s so easy to hate them?

As a Jew, I’ve always been sensitive to anti-semitism…but even more sensitive to my fellow Jews who overestimate it. Sure, it exists. And I think that it’s getting to be really problematic in Europe, but not so much here. I haven’t encountered it very much on the road. As for the Central Americans, I’ve found an increasing anti-Latino feeling in the south and midwest. One striking thing—see my response to Don above—is that Americans really don’t understand that the numbers of people crossing the border have diminished significantly since the Great Recession…and the numbers being caught and sent back have increased. I do believe that immigration is a problem that needs to be solved…but I also believe that anyone willing to walk across a desert, or cross shark-infested waters, to become an American, is going to add to our country’s strength. They always have.

DonQuixotic asks, Joe, in your recent story An Evil That Must Be Stopped, you referred to ISIS as “the most serious threat to American interests in a decade”. Do you really believe that? That a group like ISIS is more of a threat to us than Climate Change, or corporate money that has found its way into our Government, or China’s cyber theft of our intellectual property, or the economic collapse of 2008 (all just to name a few)?

Don—Obviously, I was referring to terrorist threat. I think the cyber threat is a matter of real concern, I think climate change has to be addressed, too. There are others I could list, but in terms of Islamic radicalism, ISIS is the best organized, trained and most radical group we’ve seen in the region.

Outsider asks, Joe, in trying to stridently remain in the political center, do you often ignore facts that point out that both sides are not, in fact equal in all things, and that the Right, more often than the left, is actively trying to grab and consolidate power at the expense of anyone who doesn’t support them – and indeed, often at the expense of the people who do in fact, support them, but suffer from a dearth of education and economic means?

Outsider—I’M not “trying” to adhere to the political center, stridently or otherwise. It’s where I live, and all the more vehemently as I get older. I think concentration of wealth is a problem and have written more than once about the need to break up the banks…and when I criticize Democrats—on education, especially, it’s usually because I believe that they and their interesting groups are preventing real progress and innovation.

deconstructive asks, Joe, given your experience, you can answer this better than most – simply put, why are the GOP and Tea Party especially harsh on Obama and the Clintons (both Bill and Hillary) vs. routine “normal hating” on rival Democrats in general? We know plenty of examples, no need to quote them here. In Obama’s case, I’d say it’s pure naked racism, but feel free to chime in with more background. In the Clinton’s case, I’m not as sure. The Tea Party base is driven by the South with lots of help from the Plains, and the Clintons are Southerners …and the Clintons are more centrist than liberal (like Liz Warren)… so why the extra animosity?

It’s fear. The America they know is going away. The economy has changed. Race is no longer binary—there are all sort of different races intermingle now. We have had a revolution in terms of gay rights. These are mostly older white folks—the Fox News audience—and they see their children and grandchildren moving to the cities, dating people of other races, coming out. They also have a fair number of legitimate gripes, about the restrictions that have been placed on the practice of religion in the public square. (I mean, the Bible is arguably the most important document in human history—it should be taught in the school…But I do believe there is a particular fear on the right about a president who is both white and black, and whose middle name is Hussein. The many paranoid theories about Barack Obama—that he wasn’t born here, that he’s a secret Muslim, that he’s a socialist—are disgraceful. He’s a moderate, folks.

deconstructive asks, On your road trips and other interviews with regular folks (as apart from state and Congressional politicians), do you encounter many long-term unemployed along the way? What are they telling you that’s different from the mainstream media’s coverage of long-term unemployment? What do YOU think should be done politically (as opposed to CAN be done politically, but I digress) to ensure everyone – literally – who is out of work but wants to work CAN go back to work?

Yes, I’ve met with many long-term unemployed, but even more people who are under-employed. I really should try to organize some meetings with unemployed young people. I think there should be a federal jobs program, focusing on infrastructure that gives work to anyone who wants it. (And so do many conservatives I meet on the road.)

nflfoghorn asks, Joe, despite relatively good economic news and a pretty stable fighting of the terror threat, Obama’s poll numbers are still closer to 40% than 50 (though not as low as W’s were for the same period). Who’s at fault here: Obama and his people for failing to put out a positive message about the state of our union or media’s fault for not attacking Republican mistruths?

This is a tough one. I’m not sure of the answer. The attacks on the President have been unrelenting and, more often than not, unfair. But I do sense that there’s been something missing in his response. I do believe that the right-wing foghorn has a disproportionate effect on our public atmosphere. But I also believe that the President has been insufficiently bold—which does not necessarily mean insufficiently liberal. I think that if he had arrested some of the people who brought us the Great Recession—a raucous public perp walk would have been nice—his numbers would be significantly higher today.









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