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Laying Out 'The Argument'

Laying Out 'The Argument'In his new book, Tufts graduate and journalist Matt Bai talks about the evolution of the Democratic Party's political strategy.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.20.07] With elections slightly more than a year away, Democrats are feeling optimistic about their prospects. But how comfortable should they really get? In his new book, "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics," journalist Matt Bai (A'90) says that the party needs to articulate a bold direction before it can find true success.

Bai argues in his book, which The New York Times calls "sharply written [and] exhaustively reported," that too much time and energy is being devoted to political maneuvering and fundraising rather than big, transformative thinking.

Recalling a meeting of progressive minds in 2006, Bai writes: "Seventy years ago ... visionary Democrats had distinguished their party with the force of their intellect. Now the inheritors of that party stood on the threshold of a new economic moment, when the nation seemed likely to rise or fall on the strength of its intellectual capital, and the only thing that seemed to interest them was the machinery of politics."

The book examines the conflict between a more cautious, entrenched Democratic establishment and a progressive movement clamoring for change, setting up a showdown between the recycling of Clinton-era ideas and the demand by some Democrats for a more ambitious agenda. That progressive force is embodied by the "netroots" online political movement.

mattbailrg2"The Argument" originated from reporting Bai did for The New York Times Magazine on political topics such as Howard Dean's online campaign machine and followed the subsequent boom of online politicking pioneered by powerhouses such as MoveOn.org and The Daily Kos website

"Bai went in search of 'the argument'-a cohesive, compelling explanation of what the Democratic Party stands for circa 2007. He never located anything that clear-cut, but his quest is well worth following," wrote The Boston Globe.

The book has received reviews in multiple major national publications, including the Times, the Globe, Salon and others.

"Whether writing in the first person or the more traditional reportorial third person, he is a superb stylist and a skilled selector of telling, sometimes humorous, anecdotes," said the Globe, citing his colorful recollections of talking about bloggers with Bill Clinton and his discussions with ordinary citizens empowered by the netroots movement.

By delving into these characters with unsparing detail, the review indicates, Bai creates a rich, deep portrayal of the major players in the party, including prominent politicians, wealthy donors and grass roots activists.

"The cast of hundreds allows Bai to cover ground that will seem untrodden to readers who are not daily political junkies," according to the Globe.

The New York Times called the book "illuminating," noting that Bai "combines lots of energetic reporting on the ground with some astute political analysis. The result is a colorful topographical map of the Democratic landscape."

Bai's portrait of the party is as an entity that remains divided against itself. With the 2008 election approaching, his observations-praised by critics as smart and insightful-will likely enter the public political dialogue.

"Bai's coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign was fresh and distinct," wrote The American Prospect. "This book underscores his emergence as an important new voice in the political dialogue, with keen insights and an engaging way of expressing them."

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