Letters

Spring 2005, Vol. 13, No. 2 (requires Adobe Acrobat)

Joe Klein Presents Harry C. Howard Jr. Lecture

From left: Joe Klien, Mr. and Mrs. Harry C. Howard, Jr.

On October 26th, just one week before the 2004 Presidential election, noted journalist and author Joe Klein presented the tenth annual Harry Howard Jr. Lecture. Klein’s talk was titled “All the King’s Men and Primary Colors: The Relationship Between Political Fiction and Political Factors in Election Year 2004.” Klein wrote the best-selling novel Primary Colors (Warner Books, 1996) which was inspired by the 1992 U.S. Presidential race. Klein’s contribution to the field of political fiction was very much influenced by Robert Penn Warren’s novel All the King’s Men. Warren’s 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is considered one of the greatest political novels of all time.

Klein’s talk focused not only on his and Warren’s political fiction but on contemporary political issues. Klein, who describes himself as a “flaming moderate,” offered a trenchant analysis of the issues driving the election that eschewed partisan politics in favor of advocating political and civic responsibility—on the part of candidates, the press, and the voters. Describing this election as “the most serious one that I have ever covered,” Klein identified the major issues facing the country: Iraq, Social Security and Medicare, and the U.S. trade and budget deficits. Querying “whether or not we’re serious enough as a country to deal with these challenges,” Klein noted that “we’ve seen a campaign so far where the public seems very much involved…and serious, but the candidates haven’t responded in a serious way.” Klein further acknowledged: “I think it has been one of the great disappointments to me this election year that neither of these candidates has said anything that we didn’t want to hear…or asked anything of us in any profound way.” Klein also suggested, however, that the news media bore some of the responsibility for its coverage of the campaigns. Most challenging was Klein’s call to the audience to a higher level of civic awareness: “What we have had in this country over the last fifty years is the greatest experiment in affluence that the world has ever seen. …But during that time, as a society we lost the habits of citizenship. All of us.” Klein urged the audience to “face the challenge of educating ourselves as citizens of democracy,” and encouraged people to discuss in an educated way one another’s “very real differences.”

Klein is a senior writer at Time magazine and a regular contributor to Paula Zahn Now on CNN. His weekly column in Time, “In the Arena,” covers national and international affairs. Klein has also been the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, a columnist for Newsweek, a consultant for CBS News, a Washington bureau chief for Rolling Stone, and a political columnist for New York, where he won a Washington Monthly Journalism Award for a cover story on race. His articles have appeared in The New Republic, The New York Times, Life, and the Washington Post.

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