Reading the transcript of the HuffPost Live Chat with Matt Bai got me thinking about the swirl of discussion and debate surrounding his new book The Argument. While the book has been critically acclaimed, it has run into the same buzz saw of criticism that many in the netroots have faced when standing up to the conventional wisdom in Washington.
For a long time, many of the consultants that run Democratic campaigns have been afraid of actually saying anything bold and progressive when it comes time to face the voters. They have told candidates to just "keep it vague" and say "the Republican stinks." The result is, among other things, the Kerry campaign in 2004.
The comments on Bai's book seem to uniformly agree that it is an excellently-written, engaging book that makes you laugh and think but some of very bright reviewers have disagreed strongly with the main assertion of his book: that to win and govern Democrats need to actually SAY SOMETHING; to tell the country who we are and what we'll do in a way that is relevant to people's lives and the world we live in.
Those who criticize Bai seem to be saying that Democrats can't offer the kind of big bold thinking we did when we had leaders like Franklin Roosevelt -- that the way to get elected is to make small tactical moves. If the netroots ethos is about anything, it's about saying that this kind of thinking has got to end, that Democrats need to stop tinkering around the edges and make a real argument to the American people for big change.' Americans look at rising inequality and jobs being shipped overseas and want Democrats to say here's what we're going to do about it. We see a disastrous war in Iraq and Islamic jihadism winning the battle for hearts and minds in many places six years after 9/11 and want Democrats to say here's how we're going to really make America and the world safe.
Bai is a journalist not a polemicist. He doesn't pretend to have all the answers. The Argument is a great read even if you don't usually read books about politics. But if you believe that it's time the Democratic Party grew a backbone and a brain and jumped fully into the battle of fighting for ordinary Americans, it's must reading. You may not agree with everything Bai says, but you'll be ready to have the argument.