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...