[Please welcome author, Matthew Yglesias, and our Host, Spencer Ackerman. As is our tradition in the Book Salon, please stay on the topic of the book. Thanks, Bev.]
The origin story:
First God created the Internet, and then She created LiveJournal, and LiveJournal displeased Her, so She brought down the flood and wiped away the barnacles and the dross. At the moment when She had brought upon America the dual plagues of George Bush and Osama bin Laden, She had just barely inspired Her faithful to create blogging software, and so naturally Her eye was drawn to a college student who took the odd-but-driven step of hard-coding his attempts to figure out the meaning of both intersecting plagues. She soon blessed the student with a functional content-management system. But that was not Her only blessing: she guided Her chosen one first to The American Prospect, where he learned to write long-form opinion journalism; then to Talking Points Memo as it birthed the salon TPMCafe; and most recently to The Atlantic Monthly, where an elite audience could finally learn what ideas were at stake in the renaissance of American liberalism. But She was careful not to overstep Her bounds: all She gave was opportunity. It was Matthew Yglesias who created for himself the vernacular, the tone, the style, the approach, and, most importantly, the substance.
Matt Yglesias is the best liberal opinion writer on the internet. There, I said it. In a few years he’ll be the best liberal opinion writer in America. The latest step toward this goal demonstrates why he’ll achieve it: his excellent, necessary new book Heads In The Sand: How Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and How Foreign Policy Screws Up The Democrats.
Heads In The Sand, to be reductionist, is a survey of the intellectual horizon on foreign policy. It examines the ideas that enabled the Republican Party to take the U.S. into Iraq and the lack of ideas — and political courage — that enabled the Democratic Party to enable the Republicans. If you’ve read his blog, you’ll be familiar with his contentions about the war: Iraq is an imperialist war that must end rapidly. The imperial cast of mind exists within the Democratic Party as well, by default as much as by design. The entire Washington foreign-policy establishment suffers from an inordinate fear of liberalism, even as all of liberalism’s alternatives have been discredited by Iraq. What’s needed is not just to end the war, but to defend liberal internationalism — not blindly, but without apology.
The book intends to start a debate within the Democratic Party. Is it enough to erode Bush’s agenda, or is it necessary to put forward a distinctly liberal alternative? Can the same class of experts and journalists that championed the war be relied upon to end it? What sort of 2008-vintage updates are necessary for the old-time religion of liberal internationalism? Luckily, Yglesias is here to discuss all of this with us, and I’m eager, in particular, to hear his thoughts on something the book doesn’t discuss — to my mind, the only blindspot — which is how to create a healthy relationship between liberalism (not just liberals) and the military.
One final note before we get underway. Yglesias’ book is a watershed and needs to be treated as such. His book is a test of whether a blogger can become an author. Buying and debating Heads In The Sand is valuable on its own terms. But it will also help publishing companies take risks on other bloggers. Just something to think about. For now, welcome to the salon — and, soon, to the New York Times Bestseller List — my friend and colleague Matthew Yglesias.