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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bai’s Book Draws Blogfire

Matt Bai’s new book, “The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics” is not getting the warmest of receptions from blogosphere critics. Bai’s book is reviewed at length by Salon Editor-in-Chief Joan Walsh, who explains in Salon‘s lead article today:

Bai’s written a fascinating but ultimately bewildering book that offers occasional insight, since he was smart enough to pay attention to Howard Dean before he was “Howard Dean,” and then to follow the netroots story Dean introduced, in frequent pieces for the New York Times Magazine since 2003. So we get firsthand reporting, exclusive access to early meetings (not all of which, sadly, are that interesting), and some compelling small portraiture — the Democracy Alliance’s Rob Stein, Yearly Kos organizer Gina Cooper, blogfather Jerome Armstrong, plus a damning look at the abortive presidential campaign of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who in Bai’s telling decided to cut and run rather than fight the lefty blogosphere “mob.”
But for all its love of big bold ideas, “The Argument” is premised on a big, bold idea that’s simply wrong: that Republicans seized and held power in the Nixon-Reagan-Bush I generation by selling Americans on a positive platform of new programs for national renewal, while Democrats, by contrast, are now winning merely by not losing, bashing Bush for wrecking the country while never explaining to voters what they’d do instead.

Walsh has a lot more to say about Bai’s take on the netroots, MoveOn, Mark Warner, Joe Lieberman and Bill Clinton, and doesn’t find much agreement. Still, she recommends reading it, but says readers should “draw completely different conclusions” than Bai.
Alternet also leads today with a long review of Bai’s book. Alternet‘s Executive Editor Don Hazen says of Bai and his book:

…he’s spent too much time inside the Beltway to get the story right. …Whether you agree with Bai’s critique or not likely depends on your vantage point. Beltway insiders and the largely elite think tanks that are seeking a “third way” probably agree wholeheartedly. If you are a blogger, a grassroots activist or otherwise outside of the D.C. insiders’ clique, you’re likely to take major umbrage with what Bai has to say.
At its most fundamental level, Bai’s “no new ideas” argument seems flawed. He has organized his book around a false dichotomy; nobody is against smart ideas, but what good are ideas without political power and without the fundamental vision that has been the foundation of progressive values for decades?
…And Bai never fully digests the essential point of the new internet-facilitated democratic revolution. He doesn’t appear to grasp the significance of the transformation that is occurring in politics today — from the hierarchical political machines of yesterday to a grassroots, bottom-up, person-to-person model that involves millions of new people who are fed up with the so-called wisdom from the top…Bai doesn’t get that this aim to democratize the political process is itself a vital and worthy idea.

Hazen credits Bai with an “enjoyable” chapter on Howard Dean and a strong account of Dean’s ascension. He also describes Bai’s book as a “fun read,” however flawed in its overall perpective.
Bai seems to have a unique ability among print journalists to provoke strongly-felt blogosphere critiques, which has been the case long before this book was published. It’s not fair to make him poster-boy for all that’s wrong with the MSM, but understandible, given his influence as a top writer for the New York Times Magazine. Simon Rosenberg has a shorter, more favorable review at his New Democratic Network post here, as does the LA Times‘s Jon Wiener here.

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