Sunday, August 5, 2007

Matt Bai Doesn't Get It

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

It's a bad sign when, after you finish reading a book you're going to review, and you flip back through the pages, you find that on every fifth page you've written in the margin:


Bai writes for the New York Times Magazine, so you won't be surprised that this book gave me flashbacks to the Clarence Thomas hearings.

Yeah, Bai hung out with Jerome and Markos, and he attended the first Yearly Kos, and he has one or two not-nasty things to say about Howard Dean, but basically these 308 pages boil down to this:

The Democratic Party has been hijacked by a bunch of clueless billionaires and crazy losers from the blogosphere who don't have the kind of well-designed party platform that will gain them the trust and endorsement of real Democrats like Joe Lieberman and the Editorial Board of the New York Times.

One typical snide snark:

"The blogs ... were, in fact, the voices of the new public square, but it was more like the Parisian public square in the days of the Bastille - not a place where tonwspeople came to carefully consider what their leaders had to say, but where the mob gathered to make its demands and mete out its own kind of justice."

OK, first up for the Internet guillotine: Patronizing MSM Broderists like Matt Bai.

And the section on a Move On house party to come up with five-word progressive agenda items was just about the most condescending thing I've ever read. The "tiny apartment" (Bai couldn't find a place to sit) in "a mostly-black, mixed-income neighborhood" (poor people and minorities - borrrrrring) filled with people who struggled with ideas and weren't poised and eloquent like his Georgetown friends. Good grief, even the snacks were home-made and brought by attendees - haven't these people ever heard of caterers?

FSM give me strength.

But the real crime Bai commits is that in the service of his Beltway MSM agenda he wastes a ton of pretty decent reporting. Bai's premise is that despite a historic political victory last November, the Democrats still don't have a winning platform. And he'll twist any fact, any quote to prove that premise.

One minute he's sneering at dems for phrasing their beliefs in broad, philosophical language - "help working families," "universal health care" - lacking specific policy prescriptions, and the next he's complaining that their beliefs are just a bunch of detailed policy prescriptions, without a broad, overarching philosophy.

And they have the gall to hate Bush and the Republicans! Just because Bush and the Republicans are doing every thing they can to destroy the last semblance of democracy, freedom and the rule of law in this country. How naive. How unserious. How inappropriate. They probably wear white after Labor Day, too.

Then he accuses Democrats of the worst crime of all: working to win elections!

Boy, it's a good thing FDR, Truman and JFK never had to campaign for office - they never would have had time to actually lead the country.

He even trots out that old canard that Democrats have no "new ideas." Gives it pseudo-legitimacy by quoting actual Democrats saying it.

Matty boy. you're about four curves behind. The Liberals and Progressives of the Democratic Party have spent the last 12 years developing exactly the broad philosopies and detailed policy proposals that are not only good for the country but have the approval of the majority of Americans.

No, we don't all agree on the specifics, but that's how ideas and policies get honed to perfection - in the fire of political debate.

What we're just starting to get - in the persons of Jim Webb, Jon Tester and John Yarmuth - are Democratic politicians who are willing to stand up proudly and proclaim those liberal values and policies. And by doing so, win elections.

If you're curious about how we got from the suicidal depression of November 2004 to where we are today, there's some good stuff here - especially about the secretive Democracy Alliance of progressive billionaires.

But The Argument is best read as a warning: that even after the genuine miracles liberals and progressives have achieved in the past two years, the twin stereotypes of "feckless Democrats" and "crazy, nihilistic bloggers" aren't going away any time soon.