Matt Bai /ˈbaɪ/ is national political columnist for Yahoo! News. Prior to that, he was the chief political correspondent for the New York Times Magazine, where he covered both the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns. Bai often explores issues of generational change in American politics and society. His seminal cover stories in the magazine include the 2008 cover essay “Is Obama the End of Black Politics?” and a 2004 profile of John Kerry titled “Kerry’s Undeclared War.” His work was honored in both the 2005 and 2006 editions of The Best American Political Writing. Bai is a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University in Medford, MA. In 2014, Bai appeared as himself in the second season of TV show House of Cards.
Before joining the New York Times Magazine, Bai was city desk reporter for the Boston Globe and a national correspondent for Newsweek magazine. In 2002, he left Newsweek to become the national affairs columnist at Rolling Stone magazine, but the arrangement soon unraveled. On his website, Bai writes that this “disastrous little stint” involved “no articles and a lot of weirdness, but I'm contractually prohibited from talking about that.”
Bai's book, The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, is an account of the “new progressive movement” in America and the people who built it. The Argument was the only political book to be named a New York Times Notable Book for 2007.
Other work by Bai for the New York Times Magazine has included cover stories on John McCain’s philosophy about war and Barack Obama’s strategy to win over white men, as well as a much-discussed cover essay, “Is Obama the End of Black Politics?”. During the 2008 primaries, Bai wrote an online blog, The Primary Argument, on The New York Times website.
Bai’s work was featured in both the 2005 and 2006 editions of The Best American Political Writing (Thunder’s Mouth Press). He also wrote a personal essay about his Japanese American in-laws for the anthology I Married My Mother-in-Law: And Other Tales of In-Laws We Can’t Live With—and Can’t Live Without (Riverhead Books, 2006).
In a 2007 interview with the Progressive Book Club, Bai said his political work is more influenced by novelists writing about urban decline in America than by other political writers. “I think novelists have done a better job on the whole of describing the confusing moment we’re in, in this post-industrial era,” he said. “Writers like Philip Roth, Richard Russo (especially Empire Falls and Nobody’s Fool and The Risk Pool), Richard Ford (especially The Sportswriter)—they’ve really tapped into a deep confusion."
The Argument, published in August 2007, centers on the machinations of a varied cast of progressive activists and Democratic leaders, including the netroots pioneers Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and Jerome Armstrong; Democratic Party Chairman and former presidential candidate Howard Dean; the leaders of MoveOn.org; a secret group of 100 wealthy Democratic philanthropists known as the Democracy Alliance; former President Bill Clinton; Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union; and the blogger Gina Cooper, founder of what is now Netroots Nation.
Bai's book sparked reactions from reviewers in print and online. Reviewers in the media were generally positive about the book, even if they didn’t uniformly accept its premise that the modern Democratic Party was still groping for a coherent vision of 20th century government. “I had more fun reading The Argument than I’ve had reading any political book in ages,” Kevin Drum wrote in the Washington Monthly. The Economist said the book was “engaging and painstakingly reported” and the Washington Post called it “unsparing, incisive and altogether engaging” and a “must read.” The Argument received positive reviews in newspapers such as the New York Times and Boston Globe, as well as in progressive media outlets like Mother Jones.
The reaction on the progressive blogs, however, ranged from dismissive to furious. Most in the netroots took issue with Bai’s central premise—that simply wanting to depose Republicans and reverse their policies didn’t amount to a compelling vision for the country. “Unlike Matt Bai, I think undoing the disasters of the Bush administration makes for good policy as well as good politics,” wrote Joan Walsh, the editor-in-chief of Salon.com. “Democrats and other Bush-haters should read The Argument to see what Bai sees. Then they should draw completely different conclusions, and get back to work saving the country.” Panning Bai’s book on the blog Daily Kos, Miss Laura wrote, “The man is simply not able to diagnose the problems Democrats face, or to comprehend even that he is in the presence of evidence about what’s going on in American politics if it does not agree with his own pre-conceptions.”
Bai debated and discussed the book with commenters on some of the major progressive blogs, including Daily Kos and the Huffington Post. In an interview on Daily Kos Bai shrugged off his critics: “A lot of people who have criticized the book online admit they haven’t actually read it,” he said. “They’re going on what other bloggers have said. That is a little disappointing. I think there are a whole lot of smart people who read the blogs who will read the book and make their own judgments.”
The Argument was published in paperback in August 2008, with a new and shorter subtitle: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics.
Bai's 2014 book, All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid narrates the 1987 media scandalization of then-candidate Gary Hart.
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