The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics

By Matt Bai. <i>The Penguin Press. $25.95</i>.


Matt Bai combines the jaded eye of a gossip column with the arc of a Greek tragedy in this incisive tale of Democratic soul-searching. The Argument opens in the aftermath of John Kerry’s defeat, as bewildered and angry liberals grope for a path out of the wilderness of the Bush years. Donors endlessly debate strategy, bloggers inveigh against “Vichy Democrats,” and politicians obsess over “psychographic polling” and “metaphorical frames.” They’re wasting their time, says Bai. Democrats need a new Big Idea, a platform that will help them win elections by guiding the nation through a turbulent era.

A writer for the New York Times Magazine, Bai has deep access to Democratic chieftains and a knack for the polemical vignette. He paints Daily Kos‘ Markos Moulitsas Zúniga as an intellectual lightweight who talks about some of his adoring followers “as if they were shut-ins who had forgotten to take their medication.” George Soros and the billionaire members of the Democracy Alliance, meanwhile, can’t agree on how to lead themselves, let alone the progressive battle of ideas. And Democratic Party bigwigs can’t even agree on a nickname. Nancy Pelosi suggested “the people’s party,” Bai writes, but it sounded too much “like a communiqué from the party headquarters at Pyongyang.”

Brushing off the 2006 “protest vote” that swept Democrats into Congress, Bai returns to the well-worn grievance that the party’s been unable to forge a grand agenda like the New Deal. Bai parrots the case for more robust progressive think tanks to counter the neocons’, yet scarcely explores their work. That he tries so hard to avoid wonkishness says a lot about the current appetite for political ideas. Still, Bai succeeds as a sly observer of the left’s parlor talk, conferencespeak, and off-the-cuff confessions. It’s less the ideas he finds there than those he doesn’t that make The Argument worth picking up.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.