Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Let's Think About It

Over at Huffington Post, Andrea Batista Schlesinger laments the success of conservative "think tanks" and asks, "How do progressive think tanks better make their case?"

This is an excellent question, and one that doesn't offer much in the way of easy answers. That doesn't mean there aren't any answers, but the road to finding them requires serious analysis and the patience not to jump to hasty conclusions.

A vital aspect of this analytical process is Sun Tzu's admonition to "Know thy enemy, know thyself." In military art we do this by analyzing own force and opposition "critical factors," which can be categorized as strengths, weaknesses, critical vulnerabilities, and center(s) of gravity. But to start with, we don't want to label these factors, as what at first can appear to be a strength may later prove to be a weakness or critical vulnerability.


Let's start by looking at the conservative camp. I'll list my choice of critical factors; see what you can find to add.

--Neoconservative Ideology. Core philosophy involves military-centric foreign policy, pursuit of US global domination, and encompasses the beliefs of the extreme religious right.

--Core Constituency. Exists at the far right of the political spectrum. (Quick note here: today's political spectrum does not look like a bell curve. Rather, it resembles an expanding spectrum that begins at a focused point on the right and becomes more diffuse as we move to the left. So, while the extreme right is a fairly tight ideological core, the far left is a diverse collection of barely related issue groups.)

--Organization. The right has one. True Republican "outsiders" are rare as hens' teeth.

--Communication/Propaganda. On the right, all communication is propaganda. Talking points are carefully crafted by think tanks and administration spin masters, then spread through a tightly controlled and disciplined echo chamber. We cannot overemphasize the importance of the cooperative Rupert Murdoch media empire, or forget that it is, in essence, a tabloid organization that is not held to the same standards of journalistic integrity demanded of the mainstream media.

--Perception Management. The Rovewellians are perhaps history's most successful practitioners of the "perception is reality" theory. Their ability to twist and distort facts to produce a desired political reality is uncanny. Almost all "media events" are staged--some more obviously than others. (Many folks don't know that the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad was orchestrated by The Rendon Group, a "communications consulting firm" that has conducted numerous "information operations" for the government.)

--Accountability. None whatsoever. Their "blame and deny" tactics have been incredibly effective. Hence the declaration in the media that "irony is dead." My particular favorite of the moment is the conservative uproar that the Fitzgerald investigation is a "smear campaign" on Karl Rove. Speaking of which...

--Karl Rove. Ruthless, arrogant, shameless--dedicated to the proposition that the ends of his political client's agendas justifies whatever means are required to achieve them. Understands that success consists of "fooling most of the people most of the time.'

--George W. Bush. Far more complexity to this guy than meets the eye. Does he really believe he hasn't made any mistakes and that God is telling him what to do, or is he just saying that to play to his more mindless supporters? I suspect that he's capable of Clintonian compartmentalizing--he can say or believe whatever he needs to say or believe at any given moment. Keep in mind that his professed "values" were essentially grafted onto him well into his adult life. He was a rich playboy until his early forties, when he embraced Evangelical Christianity, and in his fifties when he adopted the neoconservative political philosophy. This is not a man whose philosophies evolved over a lifetime of observation and contemplation.

To be continued...


  1. Jeff:

    While I don't disagree with most of what you posted, I should point out that 4 of the last 5 of your bullet points are insulting to anyone who votes conservative (inherently so, based on their content), and thus we come to one of the major reason the left has trouble making inroads in certain areas, and that is because they are viewed as condescending and insulting, and the premise of their arguments often lies in the mistaken assumption that people voting for the other side are either stupid or have been tricked.

    Perfect example of this was after the last election, when the lefties were coming out talking about the red-staters being stupid, or having been duped, etc., and then turned around to try and figure out how to get their votes.

    What the left-wing think tanks need to do is 1) realize that the people voting for the GOP are plenty smart and no more gullible than the left-wing voters; and 2) address the concerns of the right voters in a way that makes it clear the left understands there are real issues involved instead of, as the left tends to do, resorting to the automatic insulting and/or labeling of a person advocating a conservative position.

    In other words - left wing think tanks and politicians needs to deal with conservatives with courtesy and respect, and the same goes for their issues, just like right-wing groups need to do the same when dealing with the left. If left-wing politicians would do that, and simply demostrate this simple level of decorum, I think they'd make enough inroads among the swing-voters conservatives to win the next election. If all they can do is insult people, the door is going to slam shut before they can even get a foot in. It is a self-defeating tactic. And you don't have to look any futher than many blogs, or the DNC chair, to see a perfect example of why so many people who might listen to left-wing think tanks and might vote democrat are put off.

  2. By the way Jeff, as an addendum to my comments, one might ask "well why doesn't the right need to tone down their rhetoric."

    I think they do, as a matter of principle, and I think anyone, be they politicians or bloggers or radio hosts, who have to resort to insults in making their points do so because they simply cannot argue their postion on the merits (I'm not including your blog in this view because you aren't like that - I'm making a point generally).

    The left has the more serious problem as a practical matter. There are more (slightly, perhaps, but still more) conservatives or moderates who lean conservative than there are leftists or moderates who lean left. The demographic data I've seen overall and on various issues have been showing this trend for the past decade or slightly more. So the left has a practical problem. If they alienate middle-right people with their nonsense, they are alienating more people than the right is with their nonsense.

    The pendulum will swing back, of course, but until it does the Democrats, by necessity, will have to reach across the aisle to new voters.

    And besides that, it is the right thing to do. Who wants to vote for a bunch of buffoons that can only insult people?

  3. Excellent points, Scott. I think that comes up in a conservative factor I'd call something like "drive the debate to the lowest common denominator."

    I'll bring that up in the next front page post.


  4. I look forward to it, Jeff. I wish, when the right started driving the debate that way, the left would get out of the car and head back up the hill :)

    When I hear of Democrats talking about how to sway more voters, I very rarely hear actual issues mentioned, and ultimately the way they will need to sway voters is by paying attention to the issues those people are concerned about.

  5. Jeff, As an outsider looking in, I would like to give you a glimpse into what my little part of the world thinks of the United States of America, and the government that is in power today.

    I am a citizen of, and make my home on the Island of Raiatea in French Polynesia... I was naturalized French in the mid eighties and have never looked back... I have been called a traitor, turncoat, communist, and just about every name you could consider by the tourists who pass through our island and who I have had countless run-in's with.

    Whenm I immigrated to Tahiti, I had no idea of what I would be facing as a legal alien with a 2 year temporary visa and not allowed to work for those first 2 years. I found the Tahitian people genuinely liked americans, and their culture, their music, movies, cars and just about everything... Only - - - - They had reservations on the attitudes of those americans who visited Tahiti and felt that the visitors seemed to be rather opinionated and not very friendly in their giving of advice... Sort of like that rich aunt or uncle who comes visiting and critisizes on your life style, manner of dress, manner of work, your house, your schools, your government and your lack of modernity... After spending many years there I now see as they do all of these faux paxs, and more. I see the lady off the cruise ship with enough jewelry to make a camel grunt and the value more than our incomes for several years, trying to drive down the price of an item that was hand crafted by the very person who they are denigrating... Americans are beginning to become the bullies, even among those who only travel... When you are a guest, it is my belief that you shouldn't critique your hosts, especially if you do not really know your hosts nor their culture..

    Many of the local merchants are now asking the tourists point blank if they are for or against pResident Bush. Those who are for, find themselves not being waited on and not being able to purchase anything from those merchants who are either liberal or socialist... America needs to get back on track soon, I believe that your might have been on track if the election in 2000 hadn't been stolen from you and strongly believe that all elections since have been totally corrupt and illegal... When you have foxes in charge of the chicken coop, you are not going to have any eggs to put in those baskets...

    I no longer trust the American Government nor it's media... I have not one iota of respect for the republican party, and feel very strongly that the red states are part of the dumb and dumber society... If this makes those in the Red States unhappy, so be it... You can have science and education, but you can have the bible belt and dummies. That is up to you, and from what I have seen from being on the outside, you are getting a hell of a lot more of the dummies visiting us...

    Just this old chief's 2 cents.....

  6. Ken:

    Interesting to see what the perceptions (and inaccuracies) are abroad. You do know, for example, that thorough recounts done by the Miami Herald and USA Today still came out with Bush as the victor:


    The NORC recount came out differently as I recall. In each of these, the recounting included a good deal of subjective analysis of votes.

    So your reference to "stolen" election as a foregone conclusion is erroneous on its face.

    Further, your analysis of red v. blue "states" may be better informed by the following map:


    Lastly, I think you'd fit in well among certain bigots in the States, but by and large I take bigotry to symbolize ignorance more than political party preference. Sorry about that.