TIME columnist Joe Klein to talk 2016 politics at Mahaiwe


When it comes to presidential campaigns, Joe Klein has reached the end of the line.

After covering 11 election cycles, the award-winning TIME Magazine political columnist refuses to get on another plane to Des Moines.

"I've spent more than a year of my life in Iowa," he says, reached a day after making his annual pilgrimage from NYC to his summer home in Cape Cod.

Before heading to conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia, he will drive to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington on Friday to speak on the topic "How on Earth Did We Get Here? The Chaotic Politics of 2016." The free event is this year's Mona Sherman Memorial Lecture presented by OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).

"Every election I've ever covered, from dogcatcher in Peabody to now, the politician said, 'We're at a turning point in the history of ...'," Klein said. "We really are with Trump; he's something new and of great concern to me.'

"Trump is a manifestation of much larger trends that have been building for 50 years," he said. "We're in [what] I call the "too much information" age, and Trump is the first candidate who really understands its grammar."

Klein sees the presidency as "the most intimate office we have, the false intimacy of reality TV. It's one thing to be on the air one hour a week as a performer, the question is whether people can discern the difference between entertainment and leadership."

Though nearing 70, Klein isn't nearly ready to lay down his pen. "I've got books to write," he said. "You caught me in mid-sentence."

He has authored seven books, including the best-selling novel "Primary Colors," which he published anonymously until outed by his peers.

His latest title, "Charlie Mike," is military radio jargon for "continue the mission."

"I've always been a hands-on columnist," Klein said.

He spent time among the poor, in schools, in Russia and China, and, since 911, embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. There, he saw soldiers running towns, finding out what civilians wanted and needed. The soldiers wanted to continue this community engagement back in America, "but nothing was asked of them."

"They are real active citizens and we've lost the habits of citizenship in this country," he said. "You can't take democracy for granted, you have to work at it. Citizenship is really important; being an active part of your community."

At OLLI, citizenship is thriving.

"We have 1,100 members and two staff people," said Executive Director Megan Whilden. "Over 150 volunteers program classes, develop the curriculum, organize special events, edit the catalog. It's an extraordinary organization."

Open to everyone, OLLI is designed by and for people 50 years up, with active members in their 90s. It offers over 80 programs annually.

"OLLI members are some of the most active, engaged and intellectually curious people in the Berkshires," Whilden said. "It's learning for the joy of learning, [with] no tests, grades or homework."

The Lecture Series is named for former OLLI president Mona Sherman, and presents lectures by nationally known commentators from the world of policy and national politics.

"Classes in history and politics are very popular," Whilden said. "Joe Klein is a perfect fit; he brings a lot of knowledge of past elections."

Until the 1970s, Klein observed, America was the only country in the world that answered in the affirmative the question: "Do you think next year will be better than this year?"

"[What] changed are the things that give Trump some of his appeal: globalization, the economy, the loss of manufacturing jobs and so on and so forth."

The columnist has strong opinions of the leading candidates.

"Academics call Donald Trump voters "low-information voters" who are moved by reflexive prejudices," he said. "Trump himself hasn't thought any issue through."

Hillary as the first woman president is something to be optimistic about and long past due, he added. "It would be a remarkable turning point for the country."

Still, Klein cautions: "Any journalist who tries to predict stuff is in a mess of trouble to begin with."

If you go ...

What: OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) presents TIME magazine columnist and author Joe Klein, 2016 Mona Sherman Memorial Lecture "How on Earth Did We Get Here? The Chaotic Politics of 2016"

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington

When: 6 p.m. Friday

Cost: Free

Tickets and information: mahaiwe.org (413) 528-0100


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