Monday, May 16, 2005

The Power of Ideas

The Moose takes on the latest lefty fad.

The great urge among many on the left is to replicate the right's structure. The notion is that the key to the right's ascendancy was the creation of a series of movement institutions that transmitted the conservative message. The thinking goes that the power of the right is predicated on this super-structure.

The Moose has intimate knowledge of the conservative behemoth. In many ways it is indeed impressive. But lefties should not overestimate its significance. While the structure was important, it was not critical. What fueled the right's rise over the past forty years was a rebellion against the excesses of liberalism.

In a sense, it was more the left than the right that was responsible for the conservative success. When liberalism went off the rails in the late 60's, conservatism exploited this opening. Indeed, many of the intellectual powers within conservatism were former liberals. Conservatives were able to repeat a simple mantra of lower taxes, peace through strength, limited government and traditional values while they eviscerated the left for being weak, pro-big government and culturally wacky.

Ultimately, the dogs have to like the dog food. And the right was promoting ideas about strength, order and anti-government excess that were popular in an increasingly conservative country. That is not to say that the more loopy ideas of the right would ever have traction even with the enormous noise machine - social security privatization is a case in point.

At the end of the day, it is not about structure, but ideas and persuasion. The left has a tremendous turn-out machine as was demonstrated in 2004. It's just that there are more conservatives out there than liberals - by at least a 3-2 margin. Democrats did a marvelous job mobilizing the base in 2004, but at the end of the day, the conservative base is going to be much larger than the liberal core.

The task, therefore, is for progressives to convince more Americans that they have a better way with innovative ideas. Ideas and persuasion play an even more vital role for progressives than righties because of the conservative nature of the country. That is why this comment is so puzzling from last week's Hill newspaper ,

"Zuniga was dismissive of the existing progressive thinks tanks' capacity to change the debate or influence elections in the Democrats' favor. "Policy think tanks are pretty useless," he said, without naming any in particular."

With all respect to the netroots - here is some breaking news - the blogosphere is not going to persuade many voters to switch to the donkey. It takes innovative and surprising ideas that convince former Democrats, independents and even moderate Republicans that there is an alternative to the fringes of the right and the left.

That was done in the early and late nineties. As one who was in the belly of the best at that time, the Moose can attest that, despite the financial and structural advantages enjoyed by the right, conservatives were flummoxed by Clinton's third way.

The Democrats have figured how to oppose the Republicans, but have yet to benefit from their role as an opposition party. Innovative reform ideas will help make the Democrats an effective governing party.

So, go ahead, structure is fine, but persuasive ideas are divine.
-- Posted at 6:30 AM | Link to this post | Email this post