The Heritage Foundation of the Left? — That's the self-description of the leftist Commonweal Institute (via Instapundit). And, hey, it makes sense. Paleo-liberals are the new conservatives. They've got Ed Begley Jr. on their advisory board! Look out right-wing conspiracy!
I'm amused by the overwhelmingly reactionary and oppositional tone of the website. It's all about countering the alleged malign influence of the powerful right-wing public relations machine. The problem that Commonweal seeks to solve is “an imbalance in the marketplace of ideas.” This is funny, and it shows why Commonweal is coming out of the gate blundering. The theory they're working from here is that there is, in fact, an honest-to-goodness right-wing conspiracy. (Grover Norquist has meetings every Wednesday, you know!) And the way to stop the juggernaut is… to mimic it! (Quoting: ” The best response to the pervasiveness of right-wing messaging is to use similar techniques.”) That's the implicit slogan: “Commonweal: Building the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy”.
There is an obsession with communications strategy. If you click to learn more about Commonweal's raison d'etre you get an amusingly paranoid account of the success of the conservative and libertarian tanks. This is it, in a nutshell, with some minor embellishments:
The Kochs, Coors', Scaifes, and a few other plutocrats gather secretly in the immense inner sanctum (mounted heads of endangered species dot the redwood paneled walls) of their undetectable mountain escape (each attended, naturally, by his own eight year old, third world, hunchbacked, spiritually broken, manservant) and outline a unified strategy for political domination. They put the word out (through special encrypted satellite telephones) to their Machiavellian savant operatives, who forthwith erect institutions in Washington. These institutions hire raving ideologues whose task it is to create carefully crafted propaganda cleverly disguised as “research,” which they then feed to their allies in the media (who slyly camouflage themselves by propagating a myth–through the devious use of “studies” and “polls”–that the media is overwhelmingly Democrat), who then disseminate this misinformation to the minds of Americans everywhere, thereby creating “conventional wisdom”, false consciousness, and Republican majorities.
Those ingenious bastards! But really, it's comical. The error they're making is in thinking that conservatives and libertarians are simultaneously smarter and dumber than they really are. I know plenty of folks at Cato, Heritage, AEI, CEI, and some of the foundations. And… these folks are not strategic geniuses united in vision and purpose. However, lots of libertarians and conservatives are very smart in the sense that they produce sophisticated, original, and sound arguments. And thus, when they are able to communicate these arguments, they sometimes convince people. How about that! But this isn't considered. The Commonweal site reveals why the left has been losing: they have no strong arguments, but they don't know it! They've been so victimized by confirmation bias that the only conceivable explanation of the success of the rightish tanks is heaping helpings of dough, breathtakingly effective strategy, and sophistical rhetoric of the first order… anything but the content and appeal of the ideas themselves.
Well, maybe the ideas come later. For now, it seems the Commonweal website is just a piece of development strategy. The message at this point seems to be:
Don't those freakishly brilliant troglodytes of the right scare the living shit out of you? I bet they do! And you should be scared, because they're winning! And they're winning because they're a hell of a lot smarter than we are. But don't worry! We've captured enemy technology, reverse engineered it, and now we can use it and win too! So give us money, before it's too late!
And I'm sure they'll manage to drum up plenty of cash. Who can say “no” to Ed Begley Jr.?
[Update: I don't really buy into the left/right uni-dimensional thing; and I don't much identify with conservatives. I'm probably to “the left” of folks at Commonweal on civil liberties and consensual crime. But when people with bad categories lump you with people you don't necessarily belong with, and then piss on all of you, it's hard not to see fellow pissees as confreres.]