|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
[Matt] Bai is more negative about the liberal blogosphere, and its role in the Democrats' current supposed quandary. He purports to admire the blogosphere. He seems to genuinely like Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos, who get a lot of ink in "The Argument." He charts the first YearlyKos convention, and maybe most important, the meeting's role in former Gov. Mark Warner's short and not so sweet flirtation with the idea of a presidential run. Warner, recall, was the Democratic Leadership Council guy paradoxically endorsed by Armstrong, to the consternation of some lefty bloggers. Armstrong's pal Kos didn't endorse Warner, though he did famously embrace him at Warner's lavish YearlyKos party in Las Vegas in 2006, proclaiming, perhaps regrettably, "As a first date, this is pretty damn cool!" (It's worth noting that Bai seemed to heart Warner as well. He wrote a flattering profile of Warner in the New York Times Magazine earlier that year anointing him as the man who could beat Hillary Clinton.)
Bai's problems with the blogosphere start to show more clearly as he writes about YearlyKos, though we are supposed to be seeing the trouble through Warner's eyes. At his Vegas party, Warner is jazzed. "This is the new public square! This is the new face of the Democratic Party!" he tells the bloggers. But he begins to sour on his new friends as they pepper him with tough questions about how he'll undo the damage of the Bush years. He -- or is it Bai? Or both? -- starts to view the lefty blogosphere as Bush-hating, Hugo Chavez-loving naifs, comparable to Jane Fonda in the 1960s, all hopped up about American wrongdoing in the world while oblivious to the al-Qaida threat. In a small session with about 20 elite bloggers, Warner is clearly flustered by their belligerence toward the administration's foreign policy, their worries about Bush's intentions toward Iran and their concern for rolling back domestic spy programs. "I fundamentally believe the terrorist threat is real," an exasperated Warner tells them, and Bai leaves the impression that most YearlyKos bloggers, by contrast, don't.
Just two months later, in October, the bold candidacy of Mark Warner, "the freshest, most electable alternative to Hillary Clinton," in Bai's words, evaporates. The former governor told the world he wanted to spend more time with his family, but Bai wasn't convinced. "I suspected that his various run-ins with the donors and bloggers of the new progressive movement had also convinced Warner that, in order to succeed, he was going to have to be more angry and divisive than the governor who had won over so many Republicans -- and more partisan than the president he hoped to become," Bai tells us. And the bloggers Warner had initially lionized as "the new face of the Democratic Party" turned out to be something more disturbing.
"They were, in fact, the voices of the new public square, but it was more like the Parisian public square in the days of the Bastille -- not a place where townspeople came to carefully consider what their leaders had to say, but where the mob gathered to make demands and mete out its own kind of justice." Yikes. If Warner really was scared away from running for president by the YearlyKos "mob," then the mob did the country a big favor, because Warner needs to grow a pair before he runs for church choir director, let alone president.
Bai clearly thinks Lieberman got a raw deal. His overall Senate voting record, Bai points out, is comparable to Hillary Clinton's. His sin was supporting the Iraq war and being kissed (but Lieberman tells Bai there was "no actual lip contact") by President Bush. The lefty blogosphere's effort to defeat Lieberman, according to Bai, was marked by two features the writer can't abide: the bloggers' desire to exert power for its own sake, and even worse, a desire to exert power motivated mainly by hatred. He quotes his friend Markos as saying if the bloggers could take down Lieberman "then no one will want to be the Joe Lieberman of 2008." "The real goal here for the netroots," Bai concludes, "wasn't so much about change as it was about power."
This is the crux of what's wrong with "The Argument." Bai depicts the revolt against Lieberman as though it's the cool kids turning on a nerdy old friend they don't like anymore. Throughout the book, he minimizes what the Iraq war means to bloggers, to Democrats, to the vast majority of American voters, to the world, in order to depict Democratic insurgents as power-mad kingmakers or simply haters. But this wasn't some wonky clash over, say, the dimensions of welfare reform or the estate tax; or some venal battle to protect the power of teachers unions or the tax advantages of hedge fund executives. It wasn't Egomaniac Asshole Pol No. I vs. Egomaniac Asshole Pol No. 2. The dishonest marketing of the Iraq war and the treacherous lies behind it, the cavalier way it was executed, the disastrous way it unfolded, along with some Democrats' collusion in all or part of the debacle, have shaped and will shape American political culture for years to come. And it happened because the so-called vast right-wing conspiracy, the intellectual and media infrastructure Rob Stein charted, had succeeded in a decades-long campaign to smear Democrats as un-American in every imaginable way -- and very specifically, after 9/11, as terrorist sympathizers and appeasers. Most disturbing to angry party insurgents, Democrats like Joe Lieberman helped them along, not only by supporting the Iraq war through today, but by going on right-wing Fox News and the Wall Street Journal wingnut editorial page attacking Democrats in exactly the same terms Republicans used.
Making sure that "no one will want to be the Joe Lieberman of 2008" wasn't, then, about naked power. It was about undoing the awful Republican war and disastrous foreign policy with which Joe Lieberman colluded -- and ensuring that Democrats, in the future, would stand for something different, or not stand as Democrats. Bai misses all of that.
Labels: hack journalism