Democratic Party Lacks Message, Author Says In his new book about the Democratic party, Matt Bai, a political reporter for The New York Times Magazine, chronicles what he calls "the first political movement of the Internet age." Yet he argues that although the Democrats have a message machine, they still lack a message.
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Democratic Party Lacks Message, Author Says

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Democratic Party Lacks Message, Author Says

Democratic Party Lacks Message, Author Says

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Over the past several years, the Democratic Party has been transformed by the political equivalent of a shareholder's revolt. Activists angry with the party's Washington establishment found new ways to organize, to raise and spend money to identify and elect candidates outside the party machinery. The key factors, according to writer Matt Bai, include the passionate partisanship of the political blogs, the connective power of the Internet, and the galvanizing issue of the war in Iraq.

In his new book, "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics," Matt Bai, a political reporter for the New York Times Magazine, chronicles what he calls the first political movement of the Internet age. But if the Democratic Party has changed from the industrial to the digital age, it has yet to figure out what it stands for. The platform in the 2006 elections, for example, was we're not them. Matt Bai says Democrats need new ideas, a new sense of mission - they need an argument.

Later in the program, we'll talk about snitching on the Opinion Page this week, what it is and what it isn't.

But first the argument. Is it important for Democrats to develop a shared political philosophy, or is it more important to focus on winning the White House and expanding majorities in Congress?

Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. What should the Democratic Party stand for? E-mail, You can also comment on our blog at

Matt Bai joins us in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, Matt.

Mr. MATT BAI (Political Reporter, New York Times Magazine; Author, "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics"): Great to be here. Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: In the run-up to the 2004 election, a lot of people were thinking about how to change politics and the political process. But you say that they weren't giving an awful lot of thought to policy.

Mr. BAI: Right. I think that's true. I think that's been a hallmark of debate and discussion inside what we'd call progressive circles in the last several years, because this new movement that I write about is the self-described progressive movement inside the Democratic Party and inside the Democratic establishment, as well, in Washington. I think the common thread in both of those things has been an obsession with tactics, with electoral gains, and with winning and losing. That's not terribly shocking because we were living at a time of fairly close political competition, and every election seems up for grabs, and every election seems winnable. And it's very, very hard to push short-term electoral considerations into the background. And what I've effectively argued here is that - even allowing for the importance of that, it's really important, not just to a party but to the country, to have this deeper discussion about what the argument for the future really is.

CONAN: And one of the examples you used is the conservatives, who, in the 1970s, took over the Republican Party with a clearly identifiable political philosophy that could be boiled down to smaller government, lower taxes, strong defense, family values.

Mr. BAI: That's right. And that stemmed directly from a period in Republican and conservative history in the mid-1960s, obviously after Barry Goldwater in 1964, where you really had this decimated landscape for conservatives, and they had to begin to think about what a movement would stand for. And they did so in a very - in an environment that was not at all hostile to risk or to controversy, because there was really nothing to lose. They weren't going to win any elections anytime soon.

The Republican - the mainstream of the Republican Party was completely alienated from conservative thought, to their mind. So they didn't even have a vehicle really to work through. And so, they really began at the bottom, and began with the ideas. And this is something that I think is commonly, you know, misrepresented, it's the idea that they began with building the talk radio movement on Rush Limbaugh or conservatives began by figuring out how to win elections. So this - now, they really began with this idea base. You can have a very strenuous argument about whether these ides made or make sense for the country.

But I do think, if you look at the history of movements, like the conservative movement, like the social - the quality movements of the 1960s, like the progressive movement of the early 20th century. If you look at the history of social movements, political movements that have had very strong impacts on American politics, they have, by and large, started with an argument, with an idea that is critical for the future of the country, for government to adapt to changing times and transformation. And the political success has grown from there. And the implementation, the people willing to take those ideas and implement them at the very top levels of politics, have grown from there.

CONAN: And those arguments were developed not inside political parties, but came from the outside and found their candidates.

Mr. BAI: Yes, that's exactly right. I think that's right. They came from the outside. They had leaders, certainly. They had people challenging them to think about issues differently. And each of those movements had a milieu, if you will. They had, you know, in the - in the early part of 20th century people had coffee meetings at people's home, civic clubs. And in the 1960s, they marched...

CONAN: (Unintelligible), yeah.

Mr. BAI: Right. And they marched in the streets in the 1960s. And I think now you have the Internet, it's the milieu for this particular movement. But what makes this movement different from those is that there is not - there is neither the focus on how substantively government needs to change on exactly what it is that we need to do to adapt for the future, nor is there the leadership of that movement saying to people, you know, look, we need to think differently about how to govern the country.

And what you say is correct, that there is not a history, really, of presidential candidates, let's say, doing that for a movement or for a party. They generally, you know - Ronald Reagan was created by the conservative movement. He did not create the conservative movement. Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not create the progressivism that animated the New Deal. That came 20, 25 years before him, had been brewing going back into the 1800s. So there's no reason to expect people at the highest level of government to do this for you. You - there needs to be debate and discussion going on outside that establishment.

CONAN: And one of the things you've chronicled in this book is sort of a parallel structure where Democrats set out to, quite consciously, you know, figure out what did the Republic - what did the conservatives do, and let's do the same thing.

Mr. BAI: Right. Well, I talk in the book about this Democracy Alliance, which is up until now, at least, an entirely secret venture of millionaires and billionaires, liberal donors, there are about 100 donors in the group. It started in the wake of the 2004 election. And I had some level of access to it that others did not. And the Democracy Alliance essentially did exactly what you're describing. They set out to replicate the conservative movement in the building of think tanks, in the building of media development that would serve their purposes, and in the building of - what they called civic engagement, essentially, get-out-the-vote efforts.

And they have, to this point, I think, are approaching about $100 million in spending on progressive groups that they have funded and expanded and capitalized. And you know, one of the issues I talk about with regard to Democracy Alliance in the book, which goes to the heart of what we're talking about when we talk about debate and dissent over these issues, is that there's a feeling inside the alliance, and a feeling inside where the Democratic establishment to that unity is what's most important now. That because Democrats had been close to winning elections, because they now control Congress - and in fact, are in very good shape for the presidency in 2008 -that the most important thing is to learn from the conservatives to stay in lockstep, to not fight with each other.

CONAN: Stay on message.

Mr. BAI: Right. Exactly. Stay on message - project a unified message. And that, you know, there's a cost for that. It's not, they're not wrong. Electorally, that can be very beneficial, but you have to understand the cost that comes from that kind of enforced unity, which is, that it is - it's debate and disagreement and argument from which real intellectual advancement comes and from where you begin to derive an agenda that people can argue about. It's forcing people to make choices both internally and with the voters that creates a course of action for the country.

And I think to the extent that Democrats and progressives place this emphasis on always saying the same thing and not challenging the orthodoxy, it becomes incredibly difficult to forge an agenda that might be more suitable to some of the really transformative challenges the country faces now and going forward into the century.

CONAN: And that the Democrats, you argue, are locked in to defending the gains of the New Deal rather than looking forward to the ideas that might transform the country, the way those ideas did 60 years, 70 years ago.

Mr. BAI: Right. I believe that's true. And I'm not the only one who believes that's true. There are many people in the book who believe that's true. And it's not a hard thing to understand. In other words, I'm not overly critical about this because if you've - here, you have an agenda that was passed, enacted by the Democratic Congresses and the Democratic Party throughout the 20th century that was absolutely extraordinary, unrivaled probably in the history of government and did some tremendous things. And you have a party, a movement and a conservative movement that has tried to roll it back at every step along the way and continues to do so. And of course, that creates a certain bunker mentality. You want to protect what you have.

But, again, the cost of constantly protecting what you have in a unified way is not allowing yourself to adapt it to the future. And that is the greatest ammunition, in a sense, you can give your opponents, is an agenda that - whose relevance you're not willing to revisit.

CONAN: Our guest is Matt Bai. His new book is "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics." If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, e-mail is And let's start with - this is Jeff(ph). Jeff's with us from Erie, Pennsylvania.

JEFF (Caller): Hi, Neal. This is - first of all, I appreciate the topic. I think it's very timely. I'm a professor of history and I'm actually finishing a book on the history of liberals and Democrats during the 1970s. And my comment is it seems that, though this is a historic opportunity for liberals, we've been here before in the late '60s. And what we saw in the late '60s were middle class professionals taking control of the Democratic Party and essentially displacing what had been a - the working class whites who were at the heart of the party beforehand.

And my fear for Democrats is that the netroots, quote, unquote, "netroots" this is the same thing. You know, these are middle class, almost, you know, majority white professionals who are, again, going to take over the party and not be able to build a coalition of working class, you know, the sort of coalition that Democrats have to have to win. And I'm wondering the author's comment on that. You know, the dangers of the netroots, you know, having a stranglehold over the party and having that natural class tension between the working class and middle class professionals.

CONAN: Matt?

Mr. BAI: Jeff, I think that's an excellent point. I mean, you raise a host of issues because there was a huge transformation in the late 1960s and it wasn't, as you well know, it wasn't only about professionals and working class. And it wasn't only about race, it was also about party bosses being displaced by reformers who then held to power for many, many years and became sort of the new insiders. And that's a shift, I think, we're going to start to see again.

So, yeah, I think it's a legitimate concern that the new forces, you know, they're really taking power inside the Democrat Party. This progressive movement is pretty homogenous and has its own set of concerns. And I think you see that begin to play out in these Democratic primaries because of the tremendous amount of power being exercised by this new progressive moment. And on a lot of the issues, you know, we're talking about - you begin to see the candidates playing to that base. Yeah.

JEFF: If you look at not one of the candidates went to the DLC meeting. I mean, this is (unintelligible) to the presidency.

CONAN: The Democratic Leadership Council.

JEFF: Yet they all go to the stupid bloggers, you know? I mean maybe I'm a minority, but...

Mr. BAI: Well, I'd...

JEFF: How these, you know, these bloggers become more important than the DLC?

CONAN: You're going to have to read the book to find out about because one of the things he does is chronicle the rise of the bloggers. So thanks for the call, Jeff. Appreciate it. We've got to take a break. We're talking with Matt Bai about the future of the Democratic Party and about its philosophy, if it has one. Our number, if you'd like to join us, is 800-989-8255, e-mail I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Democrats hold the majority in Congress and seem well positioned for a run at the White House next year. But in a lot of ways, they've positioned themselves not as bold, new policymakers, but as a party of protests. Democrats are a party in search of a philosophy. That's the focus of Matt Bai's latest book, "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics."

Matt Bai writes about national politics for the New York Times Magazine. Is it important for Democrats to develop a shared political philosophy? And what should it be? 800-989-8255. E-mail is

CONAN: And just before the break, Matt, we were talking with a caller named Jeff who made a reference to those Democrats, and none of the Democratic presidential candidates going to the Democratic Leadership Council's meetings, but all of them, as he described, are going to those stupid bloggers. That's what he said.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The Daily Kos conference, which you were at earlier. In fact, welcome to the brotherhood. You...

Mr. BAI: Thank you.

CONAN: ...mediated a presidential debate. Not easy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAI: It's really a lot harder than it looks. Yeah.

CONAN: It does. There is a reaction from some in the party that - who are these outrageous people on the - what they would describe as the fringes of the party who seem to be taking over?

Mr. BAI: Yeah. And I hope these folks will read my book and not just because it's my book, but because I really get into this. I think about, you know, who exactly are these people on the blog. What are we talking about when we talk about online progressives? Yeah. How fringed - how fringe-like are these people? I mean, the reality is most of the people at were out on the blogs. Two institutions - I spent a lot of time with them and talking about them in the book - are baby boomers, are actually older.

They're not - the kids, you know, came up with the portal, the technology, but this is essentially - this is a movement largely comprising a lot of folks who burned out on politics, who were very engaged in politics at a young age, who felt left behind, in a sense, by the party. Who sat out the '90s and could never really relate to Clintonism and centrism and triangulation, as they saw it. And who found a voice in a community on the Internet so that, you know, if you lived in Nebraska or Ohio or wherever and there wasn't really a Democratic Party left to speak of because of the decisions the party had made in those intervening years, you could go online and you could be part again of a movement, of a political club, in a sense.

And these are, you know, real - I hate to sound like a cliche politician, I hate to sound like Hillary Clinton talking about lobbyists, but these are real Americans. And they're, you know, quite ordinary Americans, by and large, and it was fascinating to spend a lot of time. There are, of course, as Bill O'Reilly consistently points out, there are hateful elements online as there are hateful elements in every area of politics.

There are some cultural trends online that I talk about that I don't think are good for American politics. It's ahistorical, it's uncivil in a lot of ways. It's chaotic. But it is a movement that is permeating mainstream households as broadband becomes more and more of a fixture, as technology changes the way people connect to each other and to politics. And it is not a movement of sort of fringe people or crazy people. It is very much the mainstream future of Democratic politics.

CONAN: Let's get Juan(ph) on the line. Juan's calling us from Walnut Creek in California.

JUAN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Juan.

JUAN: I'm doing fine. How is everybody there?

CONAN: Good. Thanks.

JUAN: My thing is I agree with your speaker that the question of unity is very important. And I think the Republicans have displayed that over the last, you know, 20, 30 years. But what they have failed to do when they obtained power is deliver. And the Democratic Party right now is - it has a great opportunity to solidify its base by delivering.

What I'm talking about is, you know, a balanced budget. You know, back in the early '60s and '70s, Democrats were against balanced budgets. Now, you know, the question is, that's where America is at. They want a balanced budget. They don't want to leave their grandchildren with $9 trillion in debt. And so the question is, are they going to deliver?

Mr. BAI: Juan, let me address a couple of things you just said because I find your comment really interesting and helpful. Thanks. The first thing is I actually think you've misread where your party's at. And that may - and you can be very forgiven for that because these things are shifting very quickly and it's very hard to follow.

But, actually, if you follow the presidential primaries there, Bill Richardson is pretty much the only candidate who's actually standing up and saying that he's going to sign a balanced budget. The orthodoxy now seems to be that some amount of deficit in return for social programming is actually acceptable and desirable. And that, right there, the reason I raise that is because that, right there, is the influence of this progressive movement that I write about in the book. And it really is a tangible example of how politics within the party has begun to shift to where, sort of, the online and the donors and where the new progresses really are at.

And the other thing is, you know, you talk in terms of solidifying the base, you know, the Democrats have an opportunity to solidify the base. I'm sure that's true. But again, this is really the point of what I try to get at in the book. They have an opportunity to do something else, actually - as Democrats who now control Congress and might, in fact, win the presidency - which is to change the way the country governs itself, and which is to adapt to an age where we face at least two completely unprecedented different kinds of challenges, global terrorism that is rooted in a non-state threat that we have never faced before, and the onset of globalization and economic challenges beyond the industrial area that are something new after a century of sort of unprecedented growth and unrivaled growth.

These are huge challenges. And I think the - you know, one - the thing I'm really arguing for in the book through looking at all these characters after spending so much time on the road because the book is really narrative in nature, but the thing I'm really talking about is to not think so much about the tactical element, about how you win and how you build a base and how you build a coalition as to understand that politics really is driven in large sweeps and historic sweeps by ideas. And that when you have an idea of how you want to adapt government to face new challenges, all of those other things, while important, grow from that.

And that's when you build long-term majorities. And that's how you change the country, which is ostensibly the business we're all actually in. And that is, you know, one the hardest thing about the book and the thing I'm really trying to get across is that I didn't spend any time thinking about how you win. I talked about a lot of people who spend a lot of time thinking about how you win. But I'm trying to at least contribute to a conversation about how you effect change in government.

JUAN: And I think that how you affect change is being able to, you know, to manage and be in power. And, you know, the Democrats - I probably - it should have been better stated, expand the base. I think that the Republicans have a certain base in terms of being physically responsible. They have demonstrated that they have failed in that respect.

So the Democrats at this point, well, they want to do a lot of different things. And I think one of the things that I want to caution is absolutism. And that is like, universal health care. Universal health care may be as important. I agree with that. But I don't think what - that's where America's at per se. I think they need to take a - approach it in a unified stance that we want to talk about basic health care and look at it as not universal, but this is a platform from which we're going to take a step.

CONAN: All right. Well...

JUAN: And if the Democrats do that, then I think they're going to be able to manage other things that are more - of equal importance, the environment, you know, Pentagon, the deficit spending - not deficit spending, but the war on terrorism. The war on terrorism is important in relationship to our relations with the world. You know, we cannot win the war on terrorism unless we win the hearts and minds of the world. And this is where the arrogance of the Bush administration - they just don't see the forest for the trees.

CONAN: All right. Juan, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JUAN: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to Willow(ph). Willow is with us from Kansas City.

WILLOW (Caller): Yes. Hi, Neal. Hi, Matt. Glad to be here.


WILLOW: I wanted to make the point about - when you talk about winning hearts and minds, I've had an interesting experience since I became of voting age myself. I moved to Kansas City, Missouri just before the last presidential campaign. And previously, I lived in New York City and Salt Lake City where two states, of course, where there's no surprise, pretty much how most national elections will turn out.

When I came to Kansas City, I was really amazed and actually energized by the progressive grassroots, activities that were going on here. But when you talk, Matt, about having a central idea, it was, you know, there was really nothing as - I think we all know that in retrospect - beyond...

CONAN: Willow, we're losing your phone call.

WILLOW: Oh, sorry. One moment. Can you hear me now? Is that better?

CONAN: That's a little bit better. Thanks.

WILLOW: Okay. I was just saying that the problem was that beyond the big idea, there was really nothing beyond, you know, anybody but Bush type of rhetoric. So I couldn't agree more with all the points you're making. And I would actually add that in terms of there's - you know, that there's another cost of staying on message by the Democrats and actually by both political parties, I would say, which is, first thing, voters are cynical.

We - most of us, you know, take what they're saying with a grain of salt. We hear it as rhetoric. And frankly, a lot of people are fatigued, the fact that they started this campaign so far out. And I think it's reckless and irresponsible for our entire political system like you said instead of challenging the orthodoxy and how things are - to spend a billion dollars in paid media this far out when those dollars could be used in much more efficient and responsible ways. So I'm excited to read your book.

CONAN: All right.

Mr. BAI: Thank you. I appreciate it, Willow.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Willow. She does raise the point. And it's certainly mentioned in your book, there was an interesting poll out by Pew, that was just in the papers yesterday. It seems that in some ways, you could certainly argue the Republican Party, that conservative idea that galvanized that party back in this - starting in the '60s into the '70s, to the point where they thought just a few years ago, they had a reasonable expectation of a permanent majority, not a crazy idea just a couple of years ago. But it now seems that that's exhausted itself.

Mr. BAI: Yeah.

CONAN: And you have both parties essentially in search of a new paradigm.

Mr. BAI: I absolutely think that's true. I mean, you know, people sometimes said to me, you know, why are you picking on Democrats? I mean, look at the situation with Republicans. And my answer is because I can only do one party at a time, you know. This is a hard-enough book to write about Democrats. And I have spent the last couple of years looking into it. And now, of course, with the magazine, I'm covering both. But I absolutely think that's true. I think we have two parties in tremendous confusion and disarray when - ideologically, looking toward the future, trying to meet challenges that are frankly intractable and very, very difficult to meet. I don't mind not sitting here with the answer. Nobody that I know is.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BAI: And I think there is a huge opening for either party and for anybody or for any movement in American politics, who can reasonably and convincingly articulate a direction for government to adapt that is as compelling as we have seen, you know, the government adapt at critical times in America's past before, previous generations. If you look at the New Deal, we owe it to the great society. Or there have been other moments where previous generations have done a really remarkable job, greatly to our benefit in rethinking what government needed to do in the wake of demographic changes, of international changes and of economic transformation. And I fear that this baby boomer generation, frankly, has failed to do that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BAI: And that it may take, actually, generational change, a generation born into the post-industrial world, born into a digital world, a less ideological and a less culturally divisive world to actually begin to address issues that are in front of us rather than behind us.

CONAN: We're talking with Matt Bai. His new book is "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics." If you'd like to join the conversation, our phone number is 800-989-8255. E-mail is

Coming up in a few minutes, we'll go to the Opinion Page. This week, we'll talk about snitching. This is TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

And let's get Tom(ph) on the line. Tom is calling from Maplewood in Minnesota.

TOM (Caller): Hey, Neal. A big fan.

CONAN: Hope you're staying dry up there.

TOM: Yeah. I read an article by Dan Savage quite a while ago after the - Bush was re-elected that said that the Democratic Party should maybe look to its -look to the small islands of urban areas that have huge populations and kind of cut loose the - here it would be the DFL part like, the farmers out in the urban areas that they don't think would vote for them based on their...

CONAN: This is the urban archipelago theory. I think I heard it described that way.

TOM: Yeah. And I was wondering if - what your opinion is on that and if you think that the Democratic Party, if it had a more progressive message and grabbed more cities, if they could afford to lose that other base and if - I can take your answer off the air.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much for the call.

This goes to the argument that you go into quite a bit, really, almost about the 2006 election between the chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, and his 50 State Strategy - rebuild the Democratic Party and the leaders of the congressional campaign committees, in the Congress and in the Senate, who said look, we got a chance to win now. Don't invest in Alaska. You're crazy. We need to invest in winnable races.

Mr. BAI: Right. Right. I have a whole chapter about this in the book, which deals with a lot of these issues. And, you know, I don't - I'm not a political strategist and I think that's to everyone's benefit. So I try not to offer a lot of strategic advice. It does seem to me, having covered this for a while, particularly in the Democratic world that the Democratic Party has done enough lopping off of constituencies that didn't feel were high-percentage bets over the years.

So I do sympathize with Governor Dean's 50 State Strategy in a sense that I don't know how many constituencies you can afford to write off before your, you know, you're trying to reach a very limited American audience and put together just the right number of electoral votes every four years. And so, in that sense, I do sympathize.

But again, the point I make in this chapter of the book is that this is an argument that always boils down to tactics. This is an argument that always boils down to how you use your money. Should you use your money to have people door-knocking in Kansas when they aren't a whole lot of Democrats in Kansas and it makes the party less of a progressive juggernaut? Should you use your money to put up advertising in Ohio because Ohio matters every four years and you know you can win Ohio, so why aren't you putting up all your money there?

The underlying supposition is that you can use money to build long-term majority and enact change. Again, you had a caller who said earlier - I think it was Juan who said something I hear very often, which is the way you change the country is to get in power. And I address this very specifically in the book, toward the end of the book, where I talk about, you know, there's something to that. But there is such a faith in the idea that the way you change the country is to elect Democrats. That I think a lot of Democrats have forgotten to ask themselves, why? And that you don't actually just change the country by winning elections, you change it by what you do when you get there.

And in fact, I would argue that the reverse is true in a sense that you actually win elections long-term - build long-term majorities by changing the country, and that history proves that point more than it does the reverse.

CONAN: And do you hear any of the presidential candidates who now - because of the accelerated primaries and the race is now in full swing, of course, but do you hear any of the presidential candidates talking about anything that seems outside of the Democratic orthodoxy?

Mr. BAI: Well, you have seen Senator Obama, interestingly, in the last couple of months, begin to give a series of speeches - some of them quietly - where he has taken on some of the interest group orthodoxies of the party, certainly, and he has begun to put a little more substance behind the generational theme of his campaign in areas like education and somewhat in foreign policy and on poverty, too.

But - and so that's interesting to me. But I would say that the short answer is no. At this point, you know, there's not been a terribly compelling argument. The campaign has been largely about trying to compete for this sort of new progressive movement and for the party's old interest groups. But also that -we're in August, we are not even at Labor Day yet...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BAI: ...and I think we have to cut candidates a break because they had to go out and raise money and withstand scrutiny so early. But the truth is, you don't really find out what candidates are about until the fall. And I think they've got some time to figure that out and to figure out a way to articulate. And I think the history of campaigns suggest that we need to wait a little while.

CONAN: Matt Bai, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. BAI: Anytime, Neal. I really appreciate it.

CONAN: The book is "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics."

Coming up, the definition of snitching on the Opinion Page. What does snitching mean to you? Is there ever a time not to go the police? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail, Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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