Ezra Klein, Paul Ryan — and the left’s demand for strict conformity

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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An observation: The American left is very unhappy when conservatives or liberals play against type.

This is true when it comes to immigration, poverty, gay rights…you name it. When conservatives start creeping onto their turf — or when fellow liberals stray from party orthodoxy — a warning shot is quickly fired. (Every once in a while, of course, a movement has to humiliate and punish one of its own, just to send a message.)

In the case of conservative interlopers, turned victims, we do not suffer from a paucity of examples. When Sarah Palin first bounded onto the national scene, for example, it was clear she posed an existential threat to the party that had just pushed aside Hillary Clinton. No stone was left unturned in their quest to bring Palin down. It wouldn’t do to have a conservative woman messing on the “war on women” narrative, after all.

The most vicious beanings are reserved for those deemed traitors to their class, sex, or race. (Black conservatives often suffer a similar fate, for similar reasons).

But the defensiveness isn’t relegated solely to identity politics. It’s about encroaching on substance, too. Rep. Paul Ryan has been recently talking about inner-city poverty. And for having the courage to discuss some very real systemic problems, Ryan has been accused of racism.

No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose, but the racist charge is especially pernicious. Of course, it was really about sending a message to “stay off our turf.”

In baseball parlance, this is called “chin music” — a pitch aimed to send a message, and deter the batter from crowding the plate.

Ryan was digging in too much — getting too close to the other guy’s turf.

And so they threw at his head.

We have arrived at a point where a white Republican who talks about poverty is labeled a racist. The goal is to disincentivize white Republicans from even talking about such things — in order to preserve the status quo.

Of course, Ryan was essentially just continuing a conversation liberal Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan had begun 50 years ago, when he had the courage to warn that the welfare state might be breaking up the family unit, harming black families, and increasing urban poverty.

For daring to speak the truth and help solve the problem, even Moynihan was accused of being “something of a racist.”

Every once in a while, you’ve got to throw at one of your own players.

Something similar is taking place right now with liberal Ezra Klein, who is being labeled something of a homophobe. Okay, it’s not to that level…yet — but he is clearly being told that, when it comes to staffing up his new online venture, Vox, he had better get in line.

His decision to hire “gay anti-gay apologist” Brandon Ambrosino seems to have sparked the outrage. As the American Prospect notes, “Klein has come under fire for the lack of racial and gender diversity among Vox’s announced hires, and his decision to hire Ambrosino shows how much he has to learn about genuine diversity.”

The message is simple: Klein can get back in the good graces of polite company if he makes the right hires, going forward.

They didn’t throw at his head. Not yet.