New York Times Magazine reporter Matt Bai’s new book The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics offers a well-reasoned, persuasive argument that even though folks like George Soros, MoveOn.org, and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga now control the Democrat Party, the left as a whole lacks any real intellectual framework, nor does it advance any real intellectual argument at all. As Times reviewer Nick Gillespie writes, “Bai describes a movement long on anger and short on thought.” Progressives love to shout, “Bush lied!” “No blood for oil!” or “Halliburton” then sit back as if they have won an argument, when at best, all they have done is start one. The key point in Bai’s analysis is, “There’s not much reason to think that the Democratic Party has suddenly overcome its confusion about the passing of the industrial economy and the cold war, events that left the party, over the last few decades, groping for some new philosophical framework.”
Bai gives a keen insight into the mentality of the left that shows us why, in the long term, the new owners of the Democrat Party will not be successful in electoral politics. From Gillespie’s review:
“The Argument” provides plenty of reasons to think that the Democrats, owing to an off-putting mix of elitism toward the little people and glibness toward actual policy ideas, are unlikely to go over the top anytime soon. Or, almost the same thing, to make the most of any majority they hold. The book describes Soros, after Bush’s victory in 2004, coming to the realization that(in Bai’s words) “it was the American people, and not their figurehead, who were misguided. ... Decadence ... had led to a society that seemed incapable of conjuring up any outrage at deceptive policies that made the rich richer and the world less safe.” Rob Reiner, the Hollywood heavyweight who has contributed significantly to progressive causes and who pushed a hugely expensive universal preschool ballot initiative in California that lost by a resounding 3-to-2 ratio, interrupts a discussion by announcing: “I’ve got to take a leak. Talk amongst yourselves.” Bai never stints on such telling and unattractive details, whether describing a poorly attended and heavily scripted MoveOn.org house party or a celebrity-soaked soiree in which the host, the billionaire Lynda Resnick, declared from the top of her Sunset Boulevard mansion’s spiral staircase, “We are so tired of being disenfranchised!”
Another example of progressive intellectual “heft” from the “The Argument”:
Moulitsas, the Prince Hal of the left-liberal blogosphere, comes off as an intellectual lightweight, boasting to Bai that his next book will be called “The Libertarian Democrat” but admitting that he has never read Friedrich Hayek, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and social theorist, who is arguably most responsible for the contemporary libertarian movement. Moulitsas’ co-author (of “Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics”), Jerome Armstrong, talks a grand game about revolutionary change, but signed on as a paid consultant to former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, an archetypal centrist Democrat whose vapid presidential campaign ended almost as quickly as it began. When MoveOn — the Web-based “colossus” whose e-mail appeals, Bai says, have always centered on the same message: “Republicans were evil, arrogant and corrupt” — devised its member-generated agenda, it came up with a low-calorie three-point plan: “health care for all”; “energy independence through clean, renewable sources”; and “democracy restored.”
So now progressive left is now organized and it owns the Democrat Party. But what have they done with it? What new ideas or intellectual arguments have they advanced? None! This is because they are not about advancing an ideology they are more concerned with winning. Moulitsas, openly admits it “…I'm not ideological at all I'm just all about winning.” The netroots love to claim how they started a new revolution in politics. However, the only thing revolutionary they have done is use new technology as a means to spread a message. However, the vehicle through which a message is sent, means nothing if the message itself is bunk. Progressives fall for the false assumption that conservative political victories are the product of slick, deceptive PR campaigns, strict party discipline and the “right wing noise machine.” However, conservatives won victories on the substance of their ideas and arguments. The conservative movement was chiefly an intellectual movement founded to oppose expanding Soviet communism abroad and creeping statism at home. The “right wing noise machine” that draws so much ire from progressives did not exist until after the foremost conservative victory, the election of Ronald Reagan.
Furthermore, the left appears bent on creating their own version the right’s organizational and media apparatus without concentrating on the intellectual underpinning of the message they disseminate. For example, see Issac Smith’s political paramour Matt Stoller’s praise for one of left’s archenemies, conservative organizer Grover Norquist. “To the extent that I have a political hero, it’s probably Grover Norquist, not Ralph Nader.” Conservative talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, in particular is successful because of the substance of what he says, not just because he has a microphone. If that is all that is required, then Al Franken and Air America would be juggernauts. They aren’t, because when it comes to advancing ideas they peddle the same tired and progressive tropes.