Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NEW DEMOCRATS....A bunch of people have emailed me to recommend yesterday's Matt Bai article in the New York Times magazine about the rise of independent liberal groups that operate outside of the traditional apparatus of the Democratic party. The centerpiece of Bai's narrative is a PowerPoint presentation put together by Rob Stein, a former aide to Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, that's apparently become famous in liberal fundraising circles:

The presentation itself, a collection of about 40 slides titled ''The Conservative Message Machine's Money Matrix,'' essentially makes the case that a handful of families -- Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Coors and others -- laid the foundation for a $300 million network of policy centers, advocacy groups and media outlets that now wield great influence over the national agenda.

The network, as Stein diagrams it, includes scores of powerful organizations -- most of them with bland names like the State Policy Network and the Leadership Institute -- that he says train young leaders and lawmakers and promote policy ideas on the national and local level. These groups are, in turn, linked to a massive message apparatus, into which Stein lumps everything from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to Pat Robertson's ''700 Club.'' And all of this, he contends, is underwritten by some 200 ''anchor donors.'' ''This is perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system,'' he said.

I guess I'm a little surprised that the story of how movement conservatism and its associated money machine rose from the ashes of Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign is still news to anyone, but I guess it is. And apparently Stein has put the the story together in a uniquely understandable way that makes light bulbs go off for a lot of potential activists.

But what really surprised me is that in an 8,000-word story about these people, there wasn't so much as a single sentence about what they believe in. It's all about the infrastructure and the fundraising and the message machine but nothing about the message itself. What are they doing all this work for?

I'm not the only one wondering. Peter Beinart has a short blog post today comparing these New Democrats to the policy wonkish DLC:

NDN is riding high these days, having been featured in a cover story in this week's New York Times Magazine, and it's hosting a blizzard of events all week. Unlike the DLC, there are no policy forums--the briefings are about political strategy. If NDN has an ideology, it seems to be that ideology is secondary; that Democrats need to embrace whatever and whoever can win.

....NDN probably better represents this convention's utilitarian spirit. And there's no question that, at least in the short term, that spirit is paying political dividends. But in the long run, it's the DLC's message that the party needs to remember. Ideas have consequences, and so do their absence.

Well, yeah. But the thing is, the NDN folks say that an obsession with just the next election is precisely what they're opposed to. They think liberals need to spend more time trying to change long-term public opinion, and in this they're absolutely correct. It's the primary area in which conservatives have stomped all over liberals in the past few decades.

But what opinions do they want to change? And what do they want to change them to? Does someone have a PowerPoint presentation for that?

Kevin Drum 3:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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