TBR: The Argument
In honor of election day, this week’s book is The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, by Matt Bai.
Bai is (was?) a reporter for the NY Times Magazine, and the book is based largely on his experiences covering the 2004 and 2006 campaigns. Much of the book was vaguely familiar to me, but Bai provides more details on some topics, such as the origins of the Democracy Alliance (a group of very rich individuals who are making a concerted effort to build a progressive infrastructure). He provides nice sketches of Markos (whom he describes as a natural entrepreneur who built Daily Kos into the leading Democratic political site almost by accident) and Jerome Armstrong (whom he describes as a jack of all trades who discovered his calling in campaigns). He’s scathing about the bloggers at Firedoglake, and glowing about Gina Cooper.* All this is very well written, although there’s so many characters that I started to lose track of them by the end.
But the meat of the book is Bai’s claim that Democrats don’t stand for anything in particular, other than being not-Bush. And by "Democrats," he doesn’t just mean the presidential candidates, or the Congressional leadership, but the whole left-wing apparatus — bloggers, billionaires, think-tanks, etc. And from where I sit, that’s just not true. There’s a bunch of organizations laying out progressive agendas. I think EPI is doing the best job of articulating the overall vision in their Agenda for Shared Prosperity.
Bai seems to dismiss all this as "same old New Deal." As far as I can tell, his litmus test for something being a new vision is that it has to involve substantial change to Social Security. If you’re not willing to slaughter the sacred cow, you must be trapped in old think. (At the same time, he seems to think that Mark Warner is a visionary, for reasons that are never quite articulated.) But Social Security isn’t really in all that bad shape. Yes, there’s a funding issue, but it could be resolved with relative small increases in the cap on taxes and the retirement age, and decreases in benefits. (Medicare’s a whole ‘nother story.) And Democrats and progressives acknowledge that, by and large.
* I had never heard of Gina Cooper — she’s the person who took the lead on organizing the first YearlyKos. I’m thrilled to hear that she’s getting some recognition, because from Bai’s description, she seems to have taken on the classical female role of doing the critical behind the scenes work while Markos was running around chatting up reporters.