I attended the Take Back America conference last week, and it was great. I am inspired, and you should be, too.
Two years ago I was at this same conference and it was a very different experience. I felt it was attending a tired, demoralized gathering of people associated with the older, Washington-based, established, celebrity-driven issue-organizations. I left discouraged, wondering when the liberal establishment would start to catch up with the ideas circulating around the blogosphere – especially with the ideas about building “progressive infrastructure” organizations for reaching out to the public and promoting core progressive values and ideas, instead of the focus on issues.
After that conference I wrote,
At next week’s Take Back America conference I will be doing a “self-organized” session, titled Reaching the Public.
Progressives need to promote the benefits of progressive values and ideas to the general public. This creates demand for progressive candidates and policy solutions.
The idea is simple – right-wingers are out there all day, every day, and through every possible channel, repeating various forms of the simple marketing message “Conservatives are good and liberals are bad.” The conservatives get it: persuasion, marketing, talking to the public WORKS. Over time this has an effect.
Liberals and progressives are not responding by also talking to the general public and promoting the benefits of PROGRESSIVE values and issues. So after a few decades of this, the public has a negative view of liberals & progressives, and in surveys they say they are conservative – even though they line up with us on the facts and issues. All a conservative candidate has to do is point a finger and shout “liberal liberal” and this gives them a tremendous head start in a campaign.
Joining me will be Jeffery Feldman of Frameshop and Conor Kenny of SourceWatch.
If you are at Take Back America, please come to this session, at 4pm on Monday June 18.
I love progressive think tanks. I think building strong think tanks is a hugely important component of a “progressive infrastructure” for fighting back against the right. Progressive think tanks are where many of our ideas could be developed and communicated to the public. They are where many of the op-ed writers, book authors, opinion columnists, radio and TV guests could be employed. And they are where major reports and studies can be researched and written.
The blogs, of course, are a virtual think tank, where ideas are generated, discussed, revised and communicated at a very rapid pace.
You know that I have been working for some time to get the Commonweal Institute started. I am also on the Netroots Advisory Council of the Drum Major Institute (DMI).
The Drum Major Institute writes that they are a “progressive public policy for social and economic fairness.”
DMI’s approach is unwavering: We do not issue reports to see our name in print or hold forums for the sake of mere talk. We seek to change policy by conducting research into overlooked, but important social and economic issues, by leveraging our strategic relationships to engage policymakers and opinion leaders in our work, and by offering platforms to amplify the ideas of those who are working for social and economic fairness.
DMI’s Annual Benefit is just weeks away. On June 21st at Cipriani on 23rd street the Drum Major Institute and all of our supporters will be coming together for the big annual event that’s key to keeping a leading edge think tank growing and going strong.
How cool is the DMI benefit?
Professor Cornell West of Harvard – the Cornell West will be presenting honoree Tavis Smiley with the Drum Major for Justice Award for being an outstanding voice for social change in the news media and beyond. You probably know Mr. Smiley from his nightly talk show on PBS and the best selling progressive book “The Covenant with Black America.” [click through for links]
I hear lots of people express the sentiment, “If only Gore would enter the race (or if only Obama took the lead, etc.), everything would be OK and progressives would win again.” This is what I call “Messiah-Candidate Thinking.” The example that got me thinking about this was a DailyKos diary today: An Inconvenient Truth: Mr. Gore You HAVE to run in 2008,
Mr. Gore, you are the person best suited to rescue us from the assaults on reason, our Constitution, our environment, our security, and our domestic infrastructure perpetrated on us by the Busheviks and their allies.
I am not faulting the sentiment here. I love Gore and he would be a great President. I think most of the candidates would make great Presidents. But I don’t think that one person or one election is going to lead us out of the wilderness. I think there is a lot of work required before progressives can win again and turn America in a progressive direction.
Do the conservatives run great candidates? Is that what has worked for them? Was Bush a great candidate? Or was it something else?
In Paying the New Politics, Stirling Newberry writes about how “the well oiled parts of the establishment are busy not funding the progressive space known as the blogosphere.”
He’s writing about how bloggers can survive to continue doing the work they do. But he is also talking about “Progressive Infrastructure” — building up a power base outside of any political parties. The would consist of organizations that support the activities of progressives, that reach the pubic to inform them about issues and ideas, that provide the foot soldiers for campaigns and initiatives.
And he writes,
Many people will take this as a threat, in a sense, it is history’s threat: when a new body of people emerge, either the established means fund them, and thus bring them in – or those new people establish new institutions, ones which are not beholden to the old world. Being a student of history, I could rattle off a dozen examples beyond the conservative movement. But realize that the liberal blogosphere is a couple of ticked off billionaires away from not needing the inside.
And there are a growing number of progressive billionaires or hectamillionaires, who are less than impressed with how the liberal establishment and Democratic Party have run things. One of them could be the Scaife of the progressive movement, and one of them will be.
Every time you turn on the radio or a cable news show you hear one form or another of the same old message, “conservatives and their ideas are good and liberals and their ideas are bad.” Think about how often you hear one or another variation of that theme.
But how often do you hear that liberals and progressives are good? How often do you hear that liberal/progressive ideas are better for people than a conservative approach? And if you are reading this you’re looking for progressive ideas. So how often do you think the general public is hearing that progressives and their values and ideas are good? The public does not hear our side of the story very often – if ever.
Why is that? Maybe it’s because we aren’t telling people our side of the story!
There are literally hundreds of conservative organizations that primarily exist to persuade the public to support conservative ideas (and, therefore, conservative candidates.) The people you see on TV or hear on the radio or who write op-eds in newspapers are paid by, or at the very least draw upon resources provided by these organizations. You might or might not have heard of the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute or Americans for Tax Reform or the This Institute or the That Foundation or the Government-and-Taxes-Are-Bad Association – but there really is a network of well-funded conservative organizations marketing the conservatives-are-good-and-liberals-and-government-and-democracy-are-bad propaganda every hour of every day and they have been doing so for decades. Click this link to visit a collection of links to articles, studies, reports and other resources for learning about the right-wing movement, its history, how it is funded and how it operates.
Now, can you think of any organizations that exist to tell the public that progressive values and ideas and policies and candidates are good? Do you know about any organized effort to persuade people to support progressive values and ideas?
“If the GOP had a 100 Hours program they’d be selling it like it was going out of style.”
We hear this all the time, “the Republicans” are doing something and “the Democrats” are not. For example, here Republicans would be selling a “100 hours” plan, and Democrats aren’t.
Yes, but… Let’s examine the mechanism of that sell-job “the GOP” would be doing. First, it is not the Republican Party that does that sell-job. To me, this is a key point to understand if we’re going to work on countering the conservatives and bringing the public back to understanding and accepting progressive values and ideas and candidates. It is not the Republican Party. And when you understand this point, you understand that it is not the Democratic Party that is falling down on selling progressive ideas.
Democrats Karl Agne and Stan Greenberg, who conducted the focus group, said Democrats need a reform-oriented, anti-Washington agenda to overcome the culture gap. At this point, Democrats are in no position to capitalize if there is a clear backlash against Republicans. “No matter how disaffected they are over Republican failures in Iraq and here at home,” they said, “a large chunk of white, non-college voters, particularly in rural areas, will remain unreachable for Democrats at the national level.”
I haven’t seen a reform-oriented agenda to overcome the cultural gap from the Democrats. Have you? More importantly there still is not any kind of coordinated campaign from non-Party organizations (“progressive infrastructure” (also see skippy part I, part II and video), that reaches out across America to regular voters and promote the benefits of progressive/liberal values and a progressive/liberal approach to issues.
Without reaching out to the public, explaining WHY liberal and progressive values are better for them, nothing is going to be getting better. Why SHOULD the public think our values and ideas are worth considering when we aren’t bothering to even TELL THEM what they ARE?? This is what the conservatives are doing — you can’t go anywhere without hearing, over and over, how conservatives are better than progressives or liberals, how their ideas are good and liberal ideas are bad, etc. The public is STILL not hearing anything to counter that.
If you want to help do something about this, send Commonweal Institute a healthy, healthy check.
Following are my prepared remarks to the YearlyKos panel on Building Progressive Infrastructure. Also speaking were Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, Jerome Armstrong and David Sirota: (There’s a snippet of video here. I’ll post a link to a complete video if it becomes available.)
Thank you for inviting me to come to YearlyKos to talk Creating Progressive Infrastructure. I’m Dave Johnson. I blog at seeing the Forest and I’m a Fellow at the Commonweal Institute.
One of the things the bloggers have been pounding on for at least a couple of years is the idea of building Progressive Infrastructure.
For decades you haven’t been able to go anywhere without hearing – over and over – that conservatives are good and liberals and their ideas are bad and stupid and shameful and evil – and a hundred variations on that theme. Have any of you encountered that message? Continue reading →
“Progressive Infrastructure” – Leonard would have wanted me to start with that. That’s what he said – all the time.
I’m Dave Johnson, a Fellow at the Commonweal Institute. Kate asked me to talk about what the Commonweal Institute is, and the contribution Leonard made to the country’s political environment.
Before the Commonweal Institute there was a smaller think tank, grinding away, doing the intellectual work developing a vision for a new approach to progressive politics. That was what I call the Kate and Leonard Institute.
Kate and Leonard saw something that for some reason so many on the progressive side of politics didn’t see – that the conservatives were doing something right. Excuse the pun – Leonard would.
They saw that conservatives were marketing what President Bush would call “conservativitiyism,” and doing it very well. In fact, everywhere you go, you hear the basic marketing message repeated that conservatives are good, and liberals are bad.