Klein Talks Politics

Nationally recognized journalist Joe Klein talks about his work with students in the Honors College.


By Laura Kneski

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 16, 2012) – Joe Klein, political journalist and columnist for Time magazine, spoke at the recent Honors College Convocation, telling students that they need to get involved in shaping America’s future.


For our democracy to survive, said Klein, who also writes for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, “we’re going to have to have a generation of leaders that is better than my generation.”


“Become a part of something larger than yourselves,” Klein said during his talk at the University of South Florida’s Marshall Student Center. “We’re gonna have to have a generation of leaders that has experienced the toughest parts of reality that this country and the world has to offer. And if you do that, I promise you you’ll be better people for it.”


Klein was at USF at the invitation of Honors College Dean Stuart Silverman. He talked about his experiences during his career covering politics, sharing a number of stories from his years in journalism.


“For me,” Klein said, “journalism is a sequential of new obsessions.” He gained the majority of his knowledge of Islam and the military, for example, right after 9/11.


Klein was even invited to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas by Gen. David Patraeus, then Commander of the U.S. Army. He talked to the soldiers, noting that the men and women in the service are intelligent and dedicated and work tremendously hard.


Klein has also authored several books, including Politics Lost, which was assigned to incoming Honors students as summer reading this year.


In Politics Lost, Klein speaks on the decreasing sense of humanity that now comes from script instead of from heart. He uses the term “Turnip Day”, pertaining to President Harry Truman’s spur-of-the-moment reference to July 26, to discuss the lack of originality in today’s political speeches.


Unprepared addresses from politicians are now far and few in between, and Klein writes in order to help explain what the speeches really mean, as well as the historical context behind some of history’s biggest fake-outs.


Klein has also conducted immersive journalism on insurgency warfare in Iraq. During his trip, Klein investigated a school that U.S. soldiers were trying to reopen after the Taliban had shut it down. Not only were the Taliban standing a few dozen yards away from the property at all times, but the local town council needed to be convinced that the school needed his financial aid more than the irrigation systems of nearby farmers.


The farmers happened to be growing opium, and members of the council owned the land.


While a small portion of the funds was granted to the farmers as a courtesy, the majority of the money went to reopening the school. After much conflict, Klein shared, it now educates both boys and girls.


“Lives were lost opening that school. Limbs were lost opening that school,” he said.


Klein said that before his trip, he had promised his wife that he wouldn’t be going on any more dangerous excursions. After his return she told him that she “wasn’t going to believe another explicative-explicative-explicative thing I said again!”


Students enjoyed the talk. USF freshman Bailey Wojcik, who is majoring in Mass Communications, said that she liked “his stories about how he road-tripped across the country and talked to people about their views.”


Klein encouraged students to note their own impressions of politicians. He talked of falsities in the media and the cut-and-dry format that public addresses have taken on, not only in this election but in others over the course of his career.


“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts, and I’ve seen a disturbing amount of people who think that they are entitled to their own facts,” he said.


Dean Silverman agreed with Klein’s message about the sterilized version of politics we all now experience.


Politicians, Silverman said, “are more and more circumscribed in terms of what they can say, and they say less and less that is meaningful, which means they say less and less that’s important.”


Silverman said Klein delivered a strong message to students, in that it takes time to achieve such success.


“You can be spectacularly successful. You can be wonderfully happy. But what you have to do to be both of those is you have to work like hell. He works. He’s spent the last 40 years working his tail off,” Silverman said.


Rachel Piotrowski, a first-year student majoring in Microbiology, sums up her impression of the event.


“Mr. Klein is a fantastic speaker. A lot of times people think politics is boring, but Mr. Klein brings life back into the subject. You can tell that he has a passion for what he does, and he wants to share this passion with the rest of us,” she said.