COLUMNIST OF THE YEAR:
Jonathan Chait takes politics seriously, but serious and somber are two very different things. A senior editor at The New Republic, Chait writes that storied journal’s storied “TRB” column (past stewards include Richard Strout, Michael Kinsley, and Andrew Sullivan), and while he tackles issues of great import, he never lets them weigh him down.
Writing with a light touch and an almost palpable sparkle, Chait eschews the anger that marks much of today’s opinion writing. Though reliably liberal, he mounts arguments instead of preaching to the choir, getting off a lot of good lines in the process. “President Obama is like a pilot who took controls of the plane midflight after the engines fell out,” Chait wrote in December. “It’s obvious that he didn’t cause the problem. But the passengers are going to focus on the fact that the plane was still airborne before he took over, and now, he’s crash-landing in the ocean.”
Before joining The New Republic, in 1995, Chait was an assistant editor at The American Prospect, and for a time wrote a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times. He is also the author of the well-received 2007 book The Big Con, whose subtitle leaves little doubt about his premise: The true story of how Washington got hoodwinked and hijacked by crackpot economics. In 2008, he was a National Magazine Awards finalist in the category of Best Commentary.
Chait’s journalism career began at the University of Michigan, where he wrote a humor column — which, he says, was excellent training for writing about public affairs. “I read The Wall Street Journal editorial page,” he remarks, “and I literally crack up laughing.”
"'Marriage should be between a man and a woman.' Gay-marriage opponents have made that formulation their mantra. But it’s a really strange way for them to summarize their argument, because it’s not an argument at all. It's like saying you oppose the Bush tax cuts because 'I believe the top tax rate should be 39.6 percent.' You believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman? Okay! But why?" June 17, 2009
"By emphasizing the worthiness of his spending proposals, Obama has allowed the debate to revolve around the merits of each project. Normal spending is judged on those terms—whether the goods or services justify their cost. The point of stimulus spending, by contrast, is simply to spend money—on something useful if possible, wasteful if necessary. World War II was an effective stimulus that, economically speaking, consisted of 100 percent waste. If war hadn’t broken out, we could have enjoyed the same economic benefit by building all those tanks and planes and dumping them into the ocean." Feb. 12, 2009
EDITORIAL CARTOONIST OF THE YEAR:
Editorial cartoonists tend to view themselves either as satirists (who seek to skewer their targets) or as humorists (who want to tickle their audience). Rob Rogers places himself squarely in the latter camp. “Some cartoonists feel that if you’re not slicing the jugular every day, you’re not doing your job,” he says. “But if you go for the jugular every time, people become numb to the bloodshed.” That’s not to say Rogers isn’t interested in getting people to see things his way. “When you make someone laugh, they let their guard down,” he says. “They’re more receptive to letting the message in.” A skilled artist as well as a keen observer of the human condition, Rogers has been making readers think, and laugh, for more than 25 years. As staff cartoonist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rogers tackles subjects ranging from the local to the global, but no matter the issue or personality, he manages with remarkable consistency to make us see them in a new way. He once depicted George W. Bush in a trash bin, furiously looking for the U.S. Constitution. More recently, he portrayed Barack Obama as a desperate suitor, with candy and flowers in hand, groveling before a standoffish Republican elephant.Rogers studied fine art at Carnegie Mellon University, but his love of current events, and the appeal of getting paid to express his opinions, pulled him to a career in editorial cartooning. (He also says it was a good way to meet girls.) Syndicated by United Features, his work regularly appears in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Newsweek. As a past president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Rogers has been a national advocate for his profession, which has been struggling in recent years as hundreds of newspapers have shrunk or folded. There were more than 200 full-time staff cartoonists when Rogers started out, in the mid-1980s. Today there are around 80.
BLOGGER OF THE YEAR:
The tag line on Ezra Klein’s former blog at The American Prospect announced: “Mama said wonk you out!” Now that Klein swims in the establishment end of the blogging pool, as policy blogger–in–residence at The Washington Post, his hip-hop welcome mat is gone. But the sly, sophisticated spirit it embodied is stronger than ever.
Klein takes policy seriously enough to do the work necessary to understand it. And he understands it well enough to enlighten readers with insights that have made him both required and entertaining reading. A lucid, engaging writer, he feeds you spinach and you swear you’re eating ice cream.
For the past year, Klein has been a vital interpreter of the biggest story in Washington. And health-care reform is not just big: It is messy, complex, and subject to the heated claims of politicians, industries, and armies of academics, economists, and interest groups. In a dozen posts a day, Klein sorted through the cacophony, highlighting the most important issues and analyzing the devilish details. A partisan in the battle himself, Klein argued forcefully for reform. But he also invited opponents to make their case on the blog, elevating the overall quality of debate.
Ingesting a historic, 2-foot-high work of legislation and translating it into clear, accessible prose is a great public service. But no policy exists free of politics, and here, too, Klein was more than up to the task. He successfully guided readers through the dizzying political machinations, putting the politics in context but keeping the policy in focus — and central. He grabbed hold of one of Washington’s most slippery stories and never let go. What’s more, this 25-year-old blogger made policy cool, a feat that bodes well for the future of blogging.
"This is how health-care reform controls costs. It is, at its base, a grand bargain: The coverage expansion gets liberals to agree to, and even advocate for, cost controls they would never otherwise consider. A 6 percent growth target? A super-MedPAC—now called the Independent Medicare Advisory Board—that reforms Medicare to save money and whose recommendations are fast-tracked and protected from the filibuster? Hundreds of pages of changes to payment rates and experiments in value-based purchasing and coordinated-care efforts? This stuff is very, very real, and it goes into effect very quickly. You may think it’s impossible for Congress to cut costs in Medicare and that the government will just go bankrupt, but you’d have to admit that this is what it would look like if the government was cutting costs in Medicare." Nov. 19, 2009