Krohn's Disease

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 9 2012 4:33 PM

Krohn's Disease

Jonathan Krohn picked a good week -- last week -- to tell Politico's Patrick Gavin that he'd stopped being a "young conservative." At age 13, Krohn had spoken at the Conservative Political Action Conference, schlepped his self-published book, and became a YouTube star. By 15, he was speaking at Tea Party rallies, getting Bill Bennett to write the introduction to the book, popping up on talk radio. At age 17, he's out. And by announcing that during a slow holiday week, Krohn's conveyer belt to Damascus moment got a ton of play.

Probably too much play. But what fascinated me about the story, and what wasn't much discussed, was the archetype of the Conservative Prodigy Pundit. Before there was Krohn, there was the 17-year-old columnist Ben Shapiro. There was "America's youngest radio host," Ben Ferguson. There was the preternaturally talented Guy Benson, profiled at age 19 by Christopher Hayes.

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I asked Shapiro why smart young prodigies seem to arise, then rise, in the conservative punditocracy. Was it pride in the products of home-schooling, or something? Shapiro's answer:

I think there's probably an element of pride in the homeschooling movement when conservatives embrace kids like Krohn; there's also an element of dog-bites-man, in that young people are supposed to be supremely liberal. I think that conservative fear, too, that the young in this country will be affected disproportionately by the cultural institutions controlled by the left -- the media, Hollywood, the school system -- and so they're surprised and delighted when there are young people who represent a conservative future.

As far as my own acceptance into the conservative movement, I don't believe it's comparable to Krohn's. I wasn't home schooled at any point. I wasn't truly a kid. I was in my sophomore year of college when I got my syndicated column -- it just so happens that I'd skipped two grades earlier, so I was peculiarly young. When Creators Syndicate picked up my column, they didn't know my age -- I applied blind. If you read Brainwashed, my first book, it's a legit piece of work with substantive research and actual news, not a rehashing of conservative talking points.

With regard to whether I paved the way for kids like Krohn, I can't really answer that. I know that there was a kid named Kyle Williams who made a few waves before Krohn, too. Jonathan used to IM me on a regular basis a few years back; he actually wanted to co-author a book with me, an idea I respectfully declined. I don't believe in prodigies as a general matter; I believe in substance. Jonathan's upswing was very interesting, certainly -- I wanted to wait and see whether Jonathan would be able to incorporate substance into his repertoire over time. I don't think he ever really did, at least not when he was getting all the accolades. Which isn't to say that he won't -- he's at the age now when I first got started in this field.

The prodigy label lasts for a few years, and then it fades (as it should). The question is whether you have a valuable perspective, you build on that perspective and deepen it, and you bring something unique to the table aside from your age. A kid pantomiming
conservatism is a curiosity; somebody young who has thought through the issues and has a take to offer that reflects that thought has something real to contribute.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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