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Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Iron Law of Emulation

For the past 40 years or so, the liberal and conservative networks have been copying each other. At The Los Angeles Times, Melanie Mason reports on the latest episode, a forthcoming conference in Washington:
The donors — including an advisor to investor George Soros and San Francisco-based philanthropist Rob McKay — will hear from Vice President Joe Biden and from one of the movement's most influential strategists, Rob Stein, who urges a strategy of state-based organizing. The donors will even get a lesson in building a movement from one of the most influential organizers on the right, Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform.
About 150 of these donors will convene for the invitation-only conference. The multiday event is organized by the Democracy Alliance, a group of influential liberals founded by Stein in 2005. The idea is to coordinate in supporting liberal causes the way groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and American Crossroads help Republicans.
The irony is that the Democracy Alliance was an inspiration for the GOP network. In 2010, Time's Michael Crowley reported on American Crossroads CEO Steven Law:
Law has been studying those efforts. On his desk sits a copy of The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, a book describing how ultra-wealthy Democrats like billionaire George Soros and Progressive Insurance Companies chairman Peter Lewis helped fund the party's return to power. He's also immersed himself in Obama 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe's recent tome. "This is the photo negative of what Republicans experienced in 2006 and 2008," he says with a smile. ("Republicans are following our road map," [former MoveOn official Tom] Matzzie concurs.)
And a look at The Argument reveals an irony within an irony: the liberal network consciously modeled itself on the conservative one. Bai wrote about Stein's early presentations:
The liberals who were galvanized by Rob Stein's slide show couldn't conceal their awe for the conservative institutions that they saw as dominating Washington and the media. They marveled at the Heritage Foundation, with its $30 million budget, its staff of 180 and its eight-story building complete with intern apartments and a 250-seat, state-of-the-art auditorium.
And yet another irony is that the conservative network was itself modeled on the earlier liberal one. In a 2005 interview with Brian Lamb, Paul Weyrich once recounted how he got the idea for Heritage. When he was an aide to a conservative senator, an odd set of circumstances placed him in a meeting of liberal activists.

The National Committee for an Effective Congress was there. It was a liberal political action committee. And they said they would write every senator and say that this would be double rated, that the vote on this amendment would be double rated. So, you know, you’d really get a bad score if you voted against it.

Carl Rowan was there. He had just left the Johnson administration, and was writing a column for the “Post." And he allowed as how, if they would tell me the timing of this thing, he’d get together the editorial board of the “Washington Post," and then they could talk to them and get a favorable editorial on it, of course he said he’d write a column.


And I sat there, and I watched all these people interact with each other. The Brookings Institute guy was there, and he said, well, we’ve got a study coming up on housing, and it won’t be ready for about six months. But I’ll get a sort of preprint out in time, you know, to help you with the issue, and so on.

And I’m looking at this. And I said, that’s how they do it. I mean, I had watched conservatives getting killed on the floor of the United States Senate. And I didn’t know how it was done. I mean, I saw it happening, but I didn’t know the mechanics.

All of a sudden, I was granted the opportunity to see the mechanics. And from that day …

LAMB: What year?

WEYRICH: That was 1969. And from that day forward, I was insufferable. Wherever I went I said, we’ve got to do something about this. We’ve got to have our own organizations. We’ve got to have our own meeting, and you know, so on.