So Peter Beinart is taking a leave from TNR to expand his article "A Fighting Faith" into a book. You guys remember the piece, it called for a return to hawkish liberalism and a party purge of "softs" like Michael Moore. It pitted Democrat against Democrat and liberal against DLC'er. It did, one might say, what an article is supposed to do -- inspire debate, arouse passions, and challenge assumptions. I didn't agree with everything he wrote, but it was a good, timely piece that provoked an important, if overly vitriolic, discussion. But he should have left it at that.
Beinart's original tract was 6,000 words, precisely as much as it could sustain. The idea, after all, was simple -- the venerated Democrats of yesteryear purged Communists and ended up on the right side of history, which helped them dominate the presidency until Kennedy's assassination and the Vietnam war closed the era. Today's Democrats should heed the lesson, boot out the doves, and commence the rhetorical ass-kicking. But a book, even a short one, is 80,000-100,000 words. That's a lot of white space to fill. And Beinart's argument, frankly, has little road left to travel. This is an idea, not a piece of reporting, and so those extra words are going to be spent on anecdotes and data that strengthen the argument's nub. And that's a problem, because it means Beinart is probably going to do one, or both, of the following things:
1) Write a history book we already have;
2) Tear down Democrats in depth.
As I saw it, the intraparty purging suggested in Benart's piece was less serious than illustrative. It's not that we needed to kick these folks out so much as elevate other Democrats who'd imbue our party with a different, stronger image, doves were sucking up too much media oxygen. But what was merely provocative then will have to be fleshed out now, and whatever Beinart thought his motives were, a $600,000 advance clearly expects a product that'll hit the big red "controversy" button. Beinart is going to have to spend a lot of time explaining exactly how Moore and his ilk marginalize and define Democrats. Which means he's going to fill many a page with Moore's more intemperate statements, with Sean Penn's less sober arguments, with Janeane's weirder moments. Beinart's book, I fear, is going to emerge a display case for the stupidest moments of the most controversial Democrats, which'll easily overshadow his actual argument, enrage half the party, become ammo for the right, and generally weaken us as we enter the 2006 elections. And while I'm assuming much about a essay that has yet to be written, it's hard to see what other direction his article-cum-book can take.
Beinart's a serious guy with good intellectual intentions, I just hope he's really, really careful in writing this piece. The first lesson a popular blog teaches is that nobody cares about the point you thought you were making, they care about the point that enrages/inspires them. Let's hope the inspired aren't confined to Bush voters and Moore-haters.