A filled-to-the-brim Shannon Hall in Memorial Union bustled with UW-Madison students and community members waiting to see the blogger, columnist and accidental entrepreneur who journalism professor Michael Wagner described as “nerd-chic.”
The Wisconsin Union Directorate welcomed Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief of the news website Vox.com, as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series Monday to explore American politics and its downfalls.
Klein opened his discussion by explaining that one core problem in politics is the way it is portrayed in the media.
“Washington is terrible because we do a shitty job telling you why Washington is terrible,” Klein said.
Journalists often blame polarization for America’s broken system of government, without fully explaining what it means, Klein said. He added polarization is the most important and also most poorly understood concept in politics.
“We talk about polarization, and we tend to mean bitter argument. We tend to mean extreme disagreement,” Klein said. “Polarization is a very simple measure of how far the two political parties are from each other. It is not a measure of the danger of disagreement.”
Klein pointed to the era between 1935 and 1975, when polarization was its lowest, but many political issues persisted. He added that widespread racism largely led to this agreement between parties.
“I would far prefer a political system where parties are polarized, than where they are united in permitting segregation,” Klein said. “When those issues seceded, polarization slowly but surely came back.”
Although he was not always a hard worker, Klein said finding something he’s passionate about has helped to motivate him.
“The reason I’m into it is that in this moment doing this thing, it is in some weird way easier for me to work hard on it than not,” Klein said. “I just find it really interesting and compelling.”
UW-Madison graduate student Nicole Rudisill said Klein’s talk inspired her to try new things, no matter how she fears they might turn out.
“Even if you’re not sure if it’s the right thing, if something feels worth doing, you should do it,” Rudisill said.