Vox Co-Founder and Editor-at-Large Ezra Klein On Politics and His Irvine Roots

”I have traveled quite a ways, so the degree to which my life is still rooted (in Irvine) is interesting.”
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Photograph by Stephanie Diani

Irvine native Ezra Klein is editor-at-large at Vox, a former Washington Post columnist, a podcast host, a new father, and an all-around politics junkie.

The son of UC Irvine mathematics professor Abel Klein, Ezra spent much of his childhood hanging out on and around the campus. “As a child growing up in Irvine, I thought it was … a really wonderful place to be an adult,” he quips. “Now I look back and have more appreciation for the greenbelts and the community parks and the safety. Not only does my family still live there, I have the same best friends I went to school with at University High. We’d go to the Spectrum every weekend and act like idiots.”

Klein, who lives in Oakland, returned to UC Irvine in February to deliver a lecture hosted by the Jack W. Peltason Center for the Study of Democracy. He spoke on the topic of identity politics, which is also the subject of his upcoming book. “We have a narrow definition of (identity politics). We think of it as something that nonwhite people do, that people who are LGBT do, that women do. We think of it as anything but the dominant identities acting in their own self-interest. But identity politics is politics. It’s a force laid over all politics in this country.”

Known for launching The Washington Post’s popular Wonkblog, Klein left that outlet in 2014 to start a new media company, Vox, with fellow journalists Melissa Bell and Matthew Yglesias. “A lot of the moves I’ve made in journalism were about wanting to serve the audience in a way we weren’t. A lot of politics journalism is horse-race journalism. I wanted to write about policy, and I realized readers wanted to know information like: What is Obamacare? Why does America have a gun problem? The news of the day needed context. We started Vox so we could write about not just what happened, but all the stuff you need to know to understand what happened.”

Klein also hosts a podcast, “The Ezra Klein Show,” in which he has long conversations with politicians, authors, and other interesting folks. “I get to push against some trends in media that I find frustrating, like the way that things are packaged and always about one idea, black and white, good and bad. Here, we can be nuanced. This is the kind of conversation I like to have. I can do my own reporting. The podcast is a place I work out a lot of my ideas that are on their way to becoming a story or video or book.”

When he’s not juggling his various jobs, Klein is busy at home with his son, born in February. (Klein’s wife, Annie Lowrey, is a writer for The Atlantic.) His thoughts on fatherhood? “It changes everything in ways that, to try to talk about them, come out sounding cliché. It makes you smaller in your own life. It makes your ambitions and needs smaller.”

Klein says Orange County’s historic blue wave election last year would have been “almost unimaginable” to him when he lived here. “But Orange County is changing. It’s more diverse and younger. And on the other hand, the Republican party is more offensive to some Republicans. In 2016, Mimi Walters won the 45th District but Trump did not. But in the next election, Mimi was running not just as a Republican but as a Republican in Donald Trump’s party. And the district was not OK with Donald Trump’s Republican party. That party is changing. It has oriented itself toward a suspicion of the thing America might be becoming.”

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