The right-wing machine is very money-dependent. Conservative foundations and donors give millions to the think-tanks, public policy institutes, legal foundations, and groups like ALEC. (Just check out the State Policy Network for a handy listing, since it's an umbrella organization of all these other groups.) And that's been their strength -- but it's also a potential weakness.
These groups and others that are loosely affiliated with the Heritage Foundation (specifically the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Morton Blackwell's Leadership Institute) put a great deal of money and attention into promoting young conservatives at the college level. They subsidize right-wing college newspapers -- and often pick up on stories from those papers to feed their outrage. (All those "I got a D because my professor discriminates against conservatives" stories that show up on Fox News come out of this system.)
And both during and right after college, these young conservatives also get slotted into interning for Republican members of Congress or holding entry-level positions with these same think-tanks and foundations. They then enjoy rapid promotion, so that by the time they're in their late twenties, they're showing up on television as expert spokespeople -- at an age when their liberal counterparts are still scuffling along as assistant professors or community organizers.
But my real point is that the open-source software movement has shown us that a money-based system is not the only way to go. When people are passionate about what they do and are prepared to work together within an ethos of freedom from corporate domination, it's possible to achieve by cooperative effort anything that can be bought with money. And the results -- as any free software exponent will tell you -- tends to be stabler, more comprehensive, and more secure.
So I firmly believe that anything the right can do, we can do better -- and without marching in lock-step to get there. The main question, I think, is how to get organized -- first in terms of presenting a plausible front that gets you treated as experts by TV programs or newspapers that need someone to quote on an issue and secondly in terms of passing certain stories and memes up and down the structure so that they get maximum public exposure and don't just sputter out or get lost in the haze.
And there's something else. These think-tanks clearly have slews of people doing nothing but thinking up ways to game the system -- like this recent abomination about splitting up Pennsylvania's electoral votes. But there are people on the left who are equally capable of poring over legal codes and coming up with innovative ideas. Again, it's a matter of organization and promoting good ideas rather than letting them fizzle.
We're never going to have the level of funding and professionalism that the right does. But we have far greater resources of talent and creativity. They just haven't been hooked up in a think-tank / public policy institute / media spokesperson structure. And given the organizational tools of the Net, that's something we can now do without the big money. We can publish ourselves, make our own videos, and do anything the right can in a way that's freer, more authentic, and lots more fun.
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