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The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake DemocraticPolitics Hardcover – August 16, 2007

3.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Scandals, the immigration debate, questions of competency and an approval-deficient President all point to a Democratic sweep in the 2008 elections; despite that, New York Times Magazine writer Bai contends, the Dems' perennial stumbling blocks-a lack of strong leaders, fractured beliefs, general disorganization and inferior skills of mass communication-are only getting worse. In this look behind the scenes at Democratic decision makers, Bai points to a new generation of troubles: has Howard Dean squandered money, good will and opportunities as the head of the party? Have blogs such as DailyKos.com steered the debate away from unifying issues in favor of divisive strategies? Can lefty billionaires like George Soros, or his pet activist Rob Stein, spearhead an effective organization? And how many of these people even know what they're talking about? To analyze these questions, Bai enjoys generous access to many key figures-including Tom Matzzie of MoveOn and Hollywood stalwart Rob Reiner-but few come across as interesting characters. In addition, the focus on 2004 and 2006 races gives much of the book a been-there, done-that feel. It doesn't provide much hope for the Dems-sympathizers are sure to come away from this title depressed, even if the 2008 elections do go their way.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Fed up with the calcification of the Democratic Party, progressives have independently begun several efforts to take back the party of the New Deal and return it to its former glory. Bai, a reporter with New York Times Magazine, traveled among disaffected Democrats for this stunning, insightful, and often hilarious look at the struggle for the heart and soul of the party. He chronicles friction and culture clashes between the wealthy contributors on Wall Street and Hollywood and the Washington insiders who control the party. Bai highlights the raucous campaigns of the bloggers, including the creators of MyDD.com and DailyKos.com, to shift the agenda back toward the Left, beginning with their support of Howard Dean and continuing through their efforts to bring down Joe Lieberman. But even as the interlopers struggle to redirect the party, Bai details their agonizing attempt to define what it is they want the party to stand for, the compelling argument for progressive government after so many years of conservative dominance in American thought in the postindustrial, post–cold war era. Completely fascinating. Bush, Vanessa

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (August 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201331
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201332
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,485,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Shortly after the November 2006 election the Democracy Alliance, an exclusive group of about 100 Democratic Party millionaire activists, met in Miami, Florida. Members and their guests heard their keynote speaker and liberal legend Mario Cuomo, former New York governor, analyze the Democratic Party in the wake of its stunning electoral victories that had given Democrats control of the US Congress. Cuomo criticized the Democratic Party for lacking vision, big ideas and a winning political argument. His recipe for future Democratic victories was simple: "You seize the biggest idea you can, the biggest idea you can understand. And this is what moves elections."

Cuomo then dared to voice an inconvenient truth: "Now it's 2006 and we're all rejoicing. Why? Because of Iraq. A GIFT. A gift to the Democrats. A lot of whom voted for the war anyway." The former New York governor challenged his partisan audience, "If Iraq is not an issue, then what issues do we have to talk about? ... Where does that leave you? It leaves you in the same position you were in in 2004 - without an issue. Because you have no big idea."

The story of Cuomo's speech is from the concluding pages of Matt Bai's new book The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. Bai writes, "An uncomfortable silence hung over the ballroom. No one had yet expressed the situation quite that crassly, although everyone knew it was an accurate accounting."

The Argument is an important book but Bai muffed the title. He should have titled it "The Gift," because as Cuomo points out it was primarily the political gift of voter anger and revulsion over a horrific, continuing war that caused them to oust Republicans.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of those rare books that really causes you to stop and think, and helps you to formulate new ideas.

For the activist, blogger, or political junkie you should really consider this a textbook. It illustrates some of the battles over the future of the Democratic party that have raged over the past 5 years or so pitting party outsiders vs. party insiders. It also points out the mistakes that have been made and the opportunities that have been missed. But probably most importantly it sums up the critical task - define the argument for a Democratic governing majority.

For the casual observer this book holds many things too. It is one of the few non-fictional books that paints a tail of political intrigue, presents you with vividly developed characters (flaws and all), and really tells a story about the recent past of our political history. The casual observer might not be aware of these undercurrents in modern politics, but it is important to understand them because this is the direction things are heading.
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Format: Hardcover
The "argument" referred to in the title of this book is the search for an agenda among liberal activist groups that make up in Howard Dean's words "the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party." Matt Bai, a reporter for the New York Times Magazine, has been in close contact with these groups for many years and is sympathetic with them. However, he finds them lacking in two major respects. One, they do not have the "big ideas" based on principles that inspired, say, Roosevelt's New Deal or Johnson's Great Society program. Second, they spend too much time being negative and divisive. They're acting too much like Democratic Karl Roves, which incidentally works only in the limited way of winning elections. Bai laments the fact that they are more about partisanship than ideology.

Like the liberal activists, Bai does not care much for the Clintons and the Democratic Leadership Council. The Clinton's practice of triangulation - poaching moderate Republicans and swing voters - does not make for big ideas. Clinton politics are the "politics of the center" whereas liberal activists practice the "politics of the base." (For more on this distinction read The Way to Win: Clinton, Bush, Rove, and How to Take the White House in 2008 (Unabridged) by Mark Halperin and John F. Harris.)

For the past 30 years Republicans have been very successful on the big idea front due to their funding of such think tanks as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. According to Bai, the Democratic effort to replicate that success was initiated by George Soros and other wealthy Democrats.
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Format: Hardcover
As I plunked this book down on the counter at Stacy's Bookstore in San Francisco on Friday afternoon, I never would have believed I would be up at midnight on Sunday finishing the last page to the glow of my clip-on reading light. While it touches on a lot of pressing political issues, do not miss the fact Matt Bai's The Argument is a seriously fun read.

Bai tagged along with billionaire political activists and the founders of the netroots for the last few years and generously spills the insider details as he weaves a larger and strangely compelling narrative about the forces currently reshaping the Democratic Party.

Like many readers, I came to this book with some context for the larger
tale. Given what I had read about the book, I also braced myself
for some criticism of a movement that I had really enjoyed cheering from the
sidelines. Instead of hearing more of what I already knew or a rant against the netroots, however, I was pulled along by a great narrative in a book that in the end I felt was less a critique or polemic but something more rare altogether these days, good old fashioned journalism.

By letting the reader know just enough of his own thoughts on the people and ideas he encounters, Bai trusts the reader to set their own bias filter, which then freed at least this reader to embrace both Bai's narrative and, more importantly, his Argument.

This book will make you think anew about the larger purpose, or lack thereof, propelling the re-awakening of the Democratic Party. The book is worth buying for the stories Bai tells alone, but its real value is in how it will give you a slightly different angle for understanding how the netroots and insanely wealthly donors are changing the Democratic Party itself.
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