Here is the text of my review that originally appeared in Boldtype this week:
Something is stirring in the Democratic Party, and New York Times Magazine regular Matt Bai set out to get to the bottom of it. He found himself on the trail of another Progressive movement — the contemporary incarnation of that 19th-century groundswell that aimed to cure the ills of society. According to Bai, today’s progressive wing is composed of three powerful factions: billionaires (George Soros), bloggers (DailyKos), and grassroots organizations (MoveOn.org). With the goal of returning the party to its founding ideals, they are gaining momentum as anger mounts on the left.
Bai’s journalistic credentials grant him a ringside seat, and he documents the beginnings of something that may yet transform America — or possibly already has. For evidence of the new political battleground, Bai trots out the web-centric outpouring of support for Howard Dean in 2004 and the Ned Lamont-vs-Joe Lieberman Connecticut Senate race in 2006. There was a silver lining to those early defeats, Bai contends, as central tenets of the progressive agenda — such as universal health care and energy independence — trickled down to the mainstream and into the talking points of this year’s Democratic candidates.
The Argument offers firsthand accounts of the varied factions within the Democratic Party, while never revealing the writer’s personal politics. Some of the character sketches of those dominating the movement, such as DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, may be exaggerated, but the frankness of Bai’s attempts captures the energy that the movement provokes.
The author presents his ideas clearly, with concise and detailed writing. But what makes The Argument particularly poignant today is the recent wave of Obamamania, which shows signs of the same fervor that swept the country during earlier incarnations of the Progressive wave. The Democratic Party’s “argument,” it seems, continues, and Bai’s book may be an indispensable source for a movement that just may come out on top.