The Left: Gearing up for battle Posted by: mcq
on Thursday, June 22, 2006
One of the consistent complaints one will run across when scanning the left side of the blogosphere is the insistance that the right has, over the last 50 years, better organized itself to appeal to the people through various means. Those means by which it supposedly dominates debate through a compliant MSM, various think tanks, publications and talk radio. Of course the answer is "do the same thing".
Talk radio for the left still appears to be a bust, and the right will argue till red in the face about how compliant and helpful the MSM is to their cause, but there appear to be some think tanks emerging and David Broder takes a look at a couple of them:
But a covey of relatively new Democratic think tanks in Washington are sponsoring conferences and lectures where more substantial policy ideas are being aired and debated. And this past week two new publications appeared — one online and the other in print — that promise to push the thinking of the opposition party even further.
Promising as they are, the two publications also show just how hard it is to break free from conventional wisdom without leaving the universe of realistic policy.
With that caveat, Broder talks about the first:
The Democratic Strategist, the new online publication, comes with highly reputable sponsorship. Its editors are William Galston, a former Clinton White House policy adviser now at the Brookings Institution; Stanley Greenberg, the pollster for both Bill Clinton and Al Gore; and Ruy Teixeira, an author now affiliated with two think tanks, the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation.
They declare that "The Democratic Strategist will be firmly and insistently based on facts and data. It will seek strategies rooted in empirical research from the fields of public opinion research, political demography and other social sciences and will avoid empty rhetoric and abstract theorizing."
Would that it were so. That kind of intellectual discipline is sorely needed in Democratic debates. But the first issue is filled with pieces in which familiar Democratic names take up familiar positions, with few of them bothering to adduce any evidence to support their views.
Or said another way, the publication not only stays within the box, it reinforces it. So, as Broder points out, we have the same old time worn strategies and ideas coming from this "new" think tank:
Thus, we have blogger Jerome Armstrong, a Kos partner, arguing for mounting campaigns everywhere, no matter the odds; Robert Borosage of the leftist Campaign for America's Future inciting Democrats to take on Big Oil and all of corporate America; civil rights activist Donna Brazile plumping for cleaning up elections; and the Kennedy School of Government's Elaine Kamarck arguing that Dukakis-style "competence" should be the Democrats' battle cry.
Certainly not cutting edge stuff and certainly nothing which is going to help the left break out of the idea desert they find themselves lost within.
On the other hand, Broder is cautiously optimistic with what he sees concerning the second think tank:
The other new entry, called Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, is edited by 33-year-old Kenneth Baer and 30-year-old Andrei Cherny, both former speechwriters for Gore. Their first issue is really impressive.
The lead article, by Jedediah Purdy of Duke Law School, explores the demographic trends around the world. It discusses the implications of population decline in Europe and Japan and how the abortion-influenced gender imbalances in China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan result in a "surplus" of millions of single men in those fragile democracies or authoritarian states.
Purdy ends by suggesting a long-term bargain between Europe and Asia, or maybe between the United States and India, in which the advanced nations pump development money in now, in return for future help in financing their retirees' pensions.
As Baer and Cherny told me, "this is the kind of idea no politician could put forward now," but it points to a real problem — and challenges people to think creatively.
Another provocative piece, by Jason Furman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, focuses on the perverse distributional effects of tax deductions for employer-based health insurance. At present they subsidize the well-to-do and shortchange those struggling to afford health insurance. This article spotlights an important and often-neglected avenue for change whenever Congress decides to get serious about tackling health care in this country.
OK, regardless of your opinion of the ideas presented, you have to agree with Broder that they're at least representative of thinking outside of the norm (or the box if you prefer cliches). And they are certainly consistent with leftist thought ... government is the answer to looming questions. The big question is can they find a way to package these ideas in such a way they're saleable to politicians and voters (my feverent hope is no, but we're talking politics here). If they can, will it help the left in its quest for electoral power?
That, of course, isn't clear.
If you're interested in looking these two think tanks over, here is Democracy: A Journal of Ideaswebsite and here is the The Democratic Strategistwebsite.
As I final note, I was amused by the swipe Broder took at the left side of the blogosphere:
Judging from the amount of publicity they gleaned, the liberal bloggers who gathered in Las Vegas recently for the first annual YearlyKos convention represent the cutting edge of thinking in the Democratic Party.
But the blogs I have scanned are heavier on vituperation of President Bush and other targets than on creative thought. The candidates who have been adopted as heroes by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the convention's leader, and his fellow bloggers have mainly imploded in the heat of battle — as was the case with Howard Dean in 2004 — or come up short, as happened to the Democratic challengers in special House elections in Ohio and California.
Yup, that's been my experience when I scanned them as well, Mr. Broder. And, at this point, they do represent what passes for "cutting edge" thinking in the Democratic Party.
Actually, I quite like the idea of having Europe and Japan pump development funds into developing countries, in exchange for funding European and Japanese welfare later. This could easily be done in a reasonably libertarian way: simply make low-interest, long-term loans to the target countries. Their later repayments, with interest, would fund the retirement systems. I am not particularly happy with the idea of the US doing this, because I oppose the government transferring my money either to other entities outside the country or within it - and here they would do both. But for a socialized economy, the idea makes a great deal of sense.
Not addressed: that surplus of unmarried young men, which historically has inevitably led to wars. That may slightly impede the collection of those loans.
It’s really good you mention the surplus men ... "China needs women", isn’t this why they will invade Taiwan?
I’m surprised the Leftists/ socialists don’t at least try harder to socialize information — copying is NOT theft (it may be violation of contract use). Sharing shouldn’t be illegal. I have yet to see a serious cost-benefit analysis of continued copyright enforcement — the "intellectual monopoly rights" enforced by big gov’t result in big profits for big companies (who often pay big bucks to big-brained Libertarian type programmers & content creators).
And of course the Green issue on energy — raise gas taxes. Very popular - NOT.
and the right will argue till red in the face about how compliant and helpful the MSM is to their cause,
I’ve seen an objective study that shows the political bias of the media: it rated congress criters from left to right, then analyzed their citations (think tanks, etc.). This was compared to the sources cited by media. Surprise, surprise, media tended towards sources preferred by left wing pols.
Some interesting points: The Wall Street Journal was rather far to the left. This is because only news stories, not opinion pages, were rated. And WSJ news is too the left. Drudge and Fox news were actually close to mainstream.