Great political movements need more than a bunch of shared principles; they need an argument. The New Dealers had one. So did the Goldwater conservatives. So what's the progressive argument? What new path are Democrats urging us to choose in the era of Wal-Mart, Al Qaeda, and YouTube? Journalist Bai seeks answers in a book that takes you inside the turbulent, confusing new world of Democratic politics, where billionaires and bloggers are battling politicians and consultants over the future of a once-great party. Bai's book follows such memorable power brokers as Howard Dean, the billionaire George Soros, the union leader Andy Stern, the blogger Markos Moulitsas, and the leaders of moveon.org as they vie for control of the new Democratic landscape. Bai reveals a movement that is learning how to win again, even as it struggles to articulate a compelling argument for progressive government in a confusing new century.--From publisher description.
Not a badly told story other than that.
Admittedly, you'd be hard pressed to look at the 2006 midterm elections and see evidence of any grand ideas the Democrats ran on, and Bai is not impressed with the efforts of the people he spent time around while researching this book to come up with such ideas. But such activity is out there, such as at the Center for American Progress which Bai himself mentions a couple of times but essentially glides over (maybe he should have spent more time in their offices and less hanging out with the rich venture capitalists and Hollywood types), and at the Truman National Security Project, which focuses on how Democrats should deal with the national security challenges currently facing our nation.
Bai also matches the stereotype of the traditional media political journalist (he's a NY Times writer) who looks down his traditional nose at the emergence of the new media forms (such as blogs). He writes that the blogs, in fact, are the dark side of the new progressive movement - as if there'd be anything close to the current, vital progressive movement currently taking shape and beginning to remake the party without the blogs and new media. And why are they the dark side? Because they're fiercely partisan, mainly. How media types can lecture the Democratic Party and its constituent parts for not being bipartisan enough in 2008, after 2 terms of the most ruthlessly partisan GOP government I can ever think of, during much of which time the national Democratic party frequently bent itself over to acquiesce in a "bipartisan" way, I don't know.
So Bai fails to convincingly prove his thesis and suffers from traditional media biases, but his emphasis on focusing on developing new ideas and programs for the 21st century is at least on the right track. And his profiling of the people he did choose to spend most of his time around - especially the wealthy donors who created the Democracy Alliance in an effort to build up the progressive infrastructure - is an interesting read.