Win or Lose

This is Part II of The Right Will Fight Dirty.

Major league baseball teams use the minor league teams as a place to “farm” new baseball players. These minor league teams plant seeds by hiring hundreds of young “wannabe” players, providing them with a place to make a living while they train and gain experience, and eventually some of the best players rise up to “the majors.” Hence the term “farm teams.”

In The Next Generation, Atrios linked to Right On, a piece by Matthew Yglesias, which links to a piece by Laura Rozen describing how the right-wing American Enterprise Institute enthusiastically recruits young interns. They are discussing how the Right has a “farm team” system in place to provide internships, training, materials, etc. to a next generation of right-wingnuts to be political candidates at all levels, Congressional staffers, pundits, speakers, activists, etc. The Right has farm teams to recruit young people who are interested in politics, train them, give them a place to grow and learn. Moderates and Progressives do not.

In Political Entrepreneurs vs. Political Managers John Emerson talks about the differences between businesspeople and academics as being behind some of this problem, and moderate/liberal philanthropic foundations keeping their grantees on short leashes, and writes, “Eric Alterman noticed early in his career that his conservative friends all had cushy jobs, and he didn’t.” Finally, Jesse at Pandagon writes from a perspective of having interned (for free) at some liberal outfits.

This “farm team” system is just one part of the massive “infrastructure” that the Right has in place. This infrastructure consists of hundreds of organizations, all designed from scratch to change public opinion and the resulting political environment. This infrastructure was developed by a core group of funders who have, in effect, taken over the Republican Party and the “conservative movement” for their own ends. This money has built a network — an infrastructure — of over 500 organizations, centrally funded and coordinated and designed to market to the public. Because it is infrastructure for their movement, these organizations and the people in them are available to act on any issue at any time. What they sell is the Republican Party — not the honorable GOP of the past, but the new monolithic, cultish, far-right, secretive, post-Bircher, Nixonian, elitist, warlike, corporate Party, hawking a strange mixture of anarchic libertarian fantasy economics, money-worshiping, and desiring a one-party corporate/theological governance ruled by a behind-the-scenes aristocracy of inherited wealth. This sales job goes on 24 hours a day, every day, through every channel by which information reaches people.

A collection of links to articles, reports and resources for learning about the right-wing movement, its history, how it is funded and how it operates is available here. It is so important to our future that we understand just who is behind this right-wing movement and how they have been able to accomplish what they have, so I encourage you to visit this site and read the articles and studies it links to.

You’ve probably heard of the value of “early money” in elections. The influential “Emily’s List” is named after this concept. “EMILY” stands for “early money is like yeast.” The idea is that money that comes to a campaign very early is the most important because the earlier a candidate is able to campaign and start advertising, contacting the press and community groups, explaining positions, establishing an identity, etc., the more likely the campaign will be successful.

What the Right has is even better than that. Their network of organizations is like an early money tree — pumping out the benefits of early money years and years before any election, during elections, and the day after an election, getting started on the next one. The Right’s machine is not oriented around the election cycle, it is constant, yet this is why they win elections. Their organizations provide a drumbeat of propaganda all year, every year, working with the latest PR and marketing techniques, utilizing the latest research into the psychology of persuasion, exploiting the latest trends, etc. Because its marketing is constant, their politicians have it easy — they just show up and echo the ideology that this machine has been pumping out and ride along on the rest of the resulting public opinion. Their politicians are almost interchangable, their work having been already done for them by the organizations, they have only to show up and say the right things and they have an automatic base of support.

Moderate and Progressive politicians, on the other hand, have to develop their positions each election cycle largely on their own, and communicate their ideas themselves. Everyone blames the Democratic Party for lack of vision, lack of marketing, etc. when the problem really is that there is not a comparable network of moderate and progressive ADVOCACY MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS organizations that are OUTSIDE of the party apparatus, supporting it, feeding it ideas, foot soldiers and voters.

Organizations on the Right, like the Heritage Foundation provide talking points, training, media skills, and most important, farm teams — EMPLOYMENT for thousands of “foot soldiers” for the Right! Almost everyone on the Right is paid, and paid well (which serves to buy their loyalty to the core group of funders, their ideology and their goals.) They follow a long-term approach, which is why recruiting lots of young people and finding them paid positions as foot soldiers is an important part of their operation. Eventually these people will become activists, candidates, etc. And by having an employed stable of professional pundits, speakers, activists, etc., they are able to bring their “wurlitzer” to bear on any issue at any time, as necessary.

So the question here is why doesn’t “our side” have a similar infrastructure in place? I’ve spent a lot of time studying this problem and have developed some theories. And I have some ideas about how to begin to counter what the Right is doing.

Yglesias hits the nail on the head when he writes, “It’s the attitude of an arrogant, bloated, dominant movement that would have been appropriate in 1967 or 1977 but was clearly outdated by 1997 and will be simply pathetic by 2007.” This jibes with my own theory about why things are the way they are, that is similar to evolution: adapt to changing environments or die.

Here’s what I mean. Look back at the origins of this right-wing network. (See also here.) The “liberal establishment” used to be the only game in town. Growing up from the roots of modern philanthropy at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the system of philanthropic foundations and non-profits that was in place by the 1960s consisted of scholarly issue-oriented think tanks, and program-oriented public-service organizations that operated from a base of public agreement over common goals. In other words, in the 60’s there was universal agreement that it was a good thing to help the poor, protect the environment, provide universal education, etc.

And one of the things this system depended on was that not only the public was in agreement about their mission, but that the resulting political environment was supportive of it as well. Because the public environment already shared and was already supportive of its values and ideals, the “liberal establishment” was not designed to have organizations that work to change the underlying public environment and the resulting political environment. In fact, this was AND IS strongly considered to be against the rules!

Well, the leaders and funders of the far Right didn’t agree with this, and started building institutions of their own, designed from the start to fight against this “liberal establishment” and change that public consensus. The key is that their organizations grew from an effort to fight against liberal organizations and change public thinking. So they designed advocacy organizations with a marketing and communications focus. And over time they became more and more effective at accomplishing their mission, changing the way more and more people think, and discrediting who they saw as their opponents and enemies.

So while the organizations of moderates and liberals kept plodding along as if nothing had changed, the reality is that now there is no longer a public consensus that it is good to help the poor, protect the environment, provide universal education, etc. And, most important, the result of the Right’s efforts is that the political environment is now hostile to the goals of the major philanthropic foundations and the non-profit organizations they support. Like the proverbial frog in water that is heating to boiling, the UNDERLYING environment has changed without the “liberal establishment’s” organizations and their methods changing in response to the new environment. The Right’s entire system was designed from the beginning to change the public and political environment and undermine the effectiveness of the system. “Our side’s” organizations pre-existed this so they are not designed to respond, and have not yet adapted.

Here’s my usual example of what this means. Suppose you are a philanthropist supporting programs to protect a redwood grove. What you might do is spend money on a biologist, and on programs to have the public learn about the grove, and on lawyers for the occasional lawsuit, etc. And that always used to be an effective way to use your money. But in today’s evolved political environment an elected official can say that to fight forest fires we need to cut down the trees, or a judge can say that the “public good” is the market system so trees should be used for corporate profit. And, you might even face public protests and ridicule for your efforts to protect the environment (often led by the local far-right radio station…) So just like that the redwood grove is gone, and your entire philanthropic investment wasted.

The changed public environment means that traditional methods of philanthropy are a waste of money. In TODAY’S environment the battle must be to change underlying public attitudes, and with them the resulting political environment. The Right has worked to change this underlying public and political environment, and the moderate and progressive establishment still consists largely of organizations that are not designed at their core to fight to change underlying public attitudes and the resulting political environment. They are designed to implement programs that depend on an environment in which the public-at-large supports their goals.

The organizations of the Right are designed from scratch to work against the ideals and values that we all (reading this) cherish. Moderates and Progressives urgently need to build a number of powerful advocacy organizations designed from scratch to affect the underlying public and political environment. They need to explain to the public the value and benefit to them of ideals of nurturing, supporting each other, caring for the environment, even democracy. They need to build a “farm team” system that trains large numbers of young people to become activists, political candidates, writers, educators, commentators, filmmakers, etc., all working to restore support for progressive values and ideals.

The failure on the part of mainstream moderate and progressive philanthropy — the larger foundations — to recognize the seriousness of the threat from the Right AND to respond by developing a long-term plan and build a comparable infrastructure of hundreds of advocacy marketing/communicating organizations, recruit thousands of young foot-soldiers, etc. — has had disastrous consequences. It has led to the current emergency of the Bush administration. The photos of torture in Iraqi prisons tell us that it does not overstate matters to say that America has been transformed into a hostile, aggressive, warlike, brutal nation that few of us recognize. Democracy itself is being undermined.

This is beginning to change. Moderates and Progressives are beginning to understand the need to develop new organizations designed to respond to those of the Right. And many are beginning to understand the need to change the way their philanthropy is organized. For example, see the new GiftHub. And, last week, Alternet had a good article on this subject, Building the Countermovement

by Laurie Spivak.

The new organization Center for American Progress is an example of what we need to build. David Brock’s new organization Media Matters is another such organization, designed to counter the Right’s media, and it is already having an impact. Commonweal Institute has been building an organization to work on language and communication of ideas. Those of us in the blogging universe see the effects of these organizations. So it is easier to understand that many more such organizations would begin to seriously counteract the effect of the Right’s machine, and start taking the country back.

But these are only three, where the Right has over 500 such organizations, built over the last 30 years! We need to work to move the thinking of “our” leaders and “our” philanthropists toward understanding the need to build a permanent long-term progressive infrastructure. This is where my research has been focused. I’ve been on this like a drumbeat for a couple of years now, and I see more and more people coming to see this need as well.

We need to start building our own “machine” to take back the country — and save the world. Literally. If Kerry manages to win, all the better, but what if this means that this wonderful energy we see around us leading to a revival of progressive spirit, campaign contributions and volunteers then goes back into hibernation as it did after Clinton’s election? The Right only grew stronger during the Clinton years. And if Kerry loses, we MUST change our strategy and start working to bring the public back to understanding the benefits of sharing, community, democracy and caring for the environment. We MUST begin long-term efforts to return to the majority. WIN OR LOSE it is time to start building a moderate/progressive advocacy marketing infrastructure to fight back against the powerful organizations of the Right.