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

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

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


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.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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