Hot tip from Ezra Klein's new site: Stop freaking out about the national debt

Take it away, Mark Hemingway.

Of all the current affairs they could be usefully Voxplaining to the BuzzFeed generation right now — a primer on Crimean geopolitics or Venezuela post-Chavez, a quickie take on what the Fed’s “taper” could mean to the average paycheck, etc — it’s revealing that they put out a sort of Krugman-for-kindergarteners video like this. Also revealing is how self-contained it is: There’s no hint of counterarguments, like, say, what growing interest payments on ballooning debt will do to a federal budget that’s already slowly being cannibalized by Medicare, nor is there even a hint that the issue might be more complex than this. That’s smart rhetorically, especially given the time constraints, but … complicates, shall we say, the site’s pretensions to explanation. What sort of “explanatory journalism” launches by encouraging its readers not to spend too much time thinking about a particular subject, especially one this politically salient?

But never mind all that. I warned you a few weeks ago that you shouldn’t underestimate the reach of a site that’s targeting people who would need an “explainer” as simple as this one. Lemme quote, er, myself:

My sense of it after watching the [introductory] vid is that it’s basically going to be Wonkblog but with more background in each piece and probably lots more charts and graphics… It’ll be as reliably liberal as ever but it’ll be presented as straightforward exposition; as lefties love to tell themselves, it’s reality that has a liberal bias, not them. (Actual quote from the site: “Our end goal isn’t telling you what just happened, or how we feel about what just happened, it’s making sure you understand what just happened.” Uh huh.)…

Someone who enjoys a BuzzFeed post with 37 GIFs in it might not sit still for a long Nate Silver data-crunch but they might be willing to devote three minutes to Ezra patiently leading them through an easily digestible Q&A annotated with simple graphs. If you want to bring people around to your side politically, you should aim for the low-information readers; they’re the natural target for “explanatory journalism.”

That’s almost exactly what this is, no? The only thing that’s different is that it’s Matt who’s narrating, not Ezra, and they’re not using “lots” of graphics, they’re using nothing but graphics. This is aimed squarely at the low-information voter with a short attention span, whose views on the debt are sufficiently primitive that they might theoretically be affected by a two-minute cartoon. It won’t change your mind, but so what? Your vote isn’t the one that decides elections. Between the “shiny object” appeal and Klein’s brand as a capital-w Wonk, there are surely many casually political readers who’ll come to the site and trust it. Maybe not enough to justify a multimillion-dollar investment, but if you’re a filthy rich liberal looking to buy influence online, I can imagine worse ways to spend your money.