We Urgently Need Our Own "Message Amplification Infrastructure"

There is a story in Salon, Daschle’s SOS, about the right’s response to Tom Daschle’s criticism of how Bush’s failure of diplomacy got us into a war, and an e-mail Daschle sent out asking for people to speak up for him:

As the war abroad continued to escalate last week, the nation’s leading Democrat requested help for someone else under attack: himself. In response to Republican criticism, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s reelection committee sent out an e-mail last Thursday to union presidents and other supporters asking for them to “take the time to defend Senator Daschle from his critics.”

The e-mail, obtained by Salon, noted that after Daschle “criticized the Administration’s diplomatic efforts, the conservative attack machine went into full swing.” On March 18, right before President George W. Bush issued his final ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Daschle told an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees audience that he was “saddened, saddened, that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we’re now forced to go to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn’t create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country.”

One paragraph in particular jumped out at me:

In many ways Daschle’s note is symbolic of a larger problem for the Democrats: They need to both support our troops, lest they be painted as less than patriotic, yet they also need to point out the president’s missteps, raise funds and prepare for the 2004 elections. This can create awkward situations — ones that Republicans, better organized and funded, can easily exploit.

I think the “larger problem for Democrats” is that the right has a comprehensive, widespread “message amplification infrastructure” in place to repeat their message, pound on anyone or anything they don’t like and promote anyone or anything they do like, AND MODERATES AND PROGRESSIVES DO NOT! This is the larger problem for Democrats – and Greens — and moderates and progressives and environmentalists and anti-war activists and organizations of all stripes!

The right’s infrastructure has been called, among other things, “The Mighty Wurlitzer.” This message amplification system repeats and repeats messages and literally shouts down any opposing opinions. (I say ‘literally’ because I have seen too many cable news shows where the right-wing spokesperson literally uses shouting as a tactic to drown out whatever an opponent tries to say.)

This infrastructure enables the right, on a moment’s notice, to trot out a string of supposedly independent “voices” — organizations, websites, TV networks, talk-radio shows, experts, scholars and pundits — to argue their side of any issue. This is why I call this an “infrastructure” — because it is issue independent, and it is “turnkey,” meaning it is in place and ready to go on short notice regardless of the issue! The right’s “think tanks” prepare talking points and briefing papers that are widely faxed and passed out and downloaded. They crank up their in-place network of talk-show hosts, pundits, officeholders, etc., and give them their instructions, and away it goes. And they prepare articles and commentaries that are printed in their web of magazines and newspapers. This message amplification infrastructure completely overwhelms the efforts of moderates and progressives to get their own messages out to the public.

Look at the result of their use of this message amplification system. Who can deny that we have an imbalance in our national discourse? Think about the bizarre and terrible situation our country is in: The government focuses on tax cuts for the rich while we have greater and greater deficits, the health care system is falling apart, our education system is badly underfunded, even our roads and bridges are in need of repair. We are not even funding our anti-terrorism efforts, yet the government’s focus remains tax cuts for the rich and doing favors for the corporations that fund the right! Among other obvious results of this imbalance, we have an unelected President, and we are in an unnecessary war promoted by the right’s web of organizations and media. People who object are called “unpatriotic,” and even face severe economic consequences, like the Dixie Chicks and France. I attribute this imbalance to the right’s domination of the national discourse, and that domination is the result of their powerful message amplification infrastructure.

Nothing like this messaging infrastructure is in place for moderates and progressives. Yes, there are organizations and think tanks that address specific policy areas. The Economic Policy Institute and the Sierra Club are examples. But these are not linked, not coordinated, and do not draw on a common network of pundits, talk shows, and advocacy organizations.

We must put such an infrastructure together for moderates and progressives!

So how do we accomplish this?

1) Recognize the need for it, and inform others. This is the beginning of the process! Read this article about how the right developed the idea of forming their infrastructure (written from the right’s perspective).

Envious conservatives watched the powerful liberal coalition of academics, think tank analysts, members of Congress, White House aides, interest group officials, and journalists run much of the business of the nation’s capital and wondered: “Why can’t we put together an operation like that?” And wondered some more. Yet the answer was clear: there was no conservative alternative to the Brookings Institution, the catalyst for many of the legislative successes of the liberals during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Well, the 1960’s Brookings Institution was nothing compared to what the right has built since!

We need to understand how the right has been so effective, and realize that we must set up a similar coordinated infrastructure that OUR leaders and organizations and institutions can draw on to get their messages out. Think about this, tell others about it. Write about it.

2) We must get this funded. Do you think this would be too expensive? Well, here is a surprise — there is more money available on the moderate-progressive side than there is on the right! Yes, this is true. There is a great deal of private money that is given to environmental causes, civil rights, social justice, housing for the poor, economic opportunity for disadvantaged, and so many other programs that would be considered moderate/progressive. Much of this is done through a system of philanthropic foundations and organizations — a system set up over the last 100 years since the time of Carnegie and Rockefeller.

But we now live in a world where the things we care about are under organized attack, and the moderate and progressive organizations and institutions are not set up to defend themselves and their programs! Who would have thought that there would be an organized, well funded attack by ideologues who believe that helping the poor and protecting the environment and things like that are bad? But this is what is happening, and philanthropists need to understand that there has been a change in the public environment, and begin funding an infrastructure to counter this.

The problem with traditional philanthropy is that the public environment of support for these programs has been changed by the efforts of this right-wing message amplification infrastructure. The nature of traditional philanthropy, with its “program funding” is under attack. Program funding, which came about as a way to best apply limited resources, is no longer as effective. In business terms, there is a poor return on investment (ROI) resulting from the effects of the right’s attack operation. For example, $5 million put into a “save the redwoods” project is wasted if one right-wing judge rules that the trees can be cut, or a right-wing government rules that the best way to fight forest fires is to remove the trees! Wouldn’t it have been better to put $500,000 into an infrastructure that generally counters the right’s attack, working to bring public support back toward the center, so that the other $4,500,000 could be effective? This is how the right has been so effective – by building a message amplification infrastructure – and we should fight back and counter their attack.

If you know people who give money to organizations, or people who work at philanthropic foundations, please talk with them about this problem of the goals of traditional philanthropy being under attack, and how to respond.

Important – read also Don’t Blame the Democrats.

There is more coming on this subject!