27 March 2006

Of Janissaries and Noise Machines

Daily Kos diarist le5540 discusses today in an euridite and thoughtful post the Republican tradition of rewarding young loyalists with careers in their modern political machine, just as the Ottomans rewarded loyal idle young Christians with positions in its militia. Meanwhile, uber blogger Markos, the founder of the Daily Kos, recently wound up on CNN pitching his new book, "Crashing The Gates", which similarly argues that Democrats need an answer to the "Right Wing Noise Machine."

I'm not yet convinced.

Why do liberals not feel compelled to create think tanks to the same degree as conservatives? Because liberals are competent enough, and respect the truth enough, not the need that crutch. They can make it in mainstream academia. In contrast, many conservative political theories don't have enough of a basis in fact for credible academics to pitch them. They let their patrons drive their conclusions, instead of the evidence.

Why do liberals not feel compelled to create partisan television and radio networks? Because, as a reality based movement, they don't need to twist the truth to their political ends.

How can conservatives afford to put activists on the payrolls of well paid lobbying firms? Because the rich and powerful tend to have more money for this kind of thing than the disenfranchised poor, whom liberals protect from the rich and powerful while working on unpaid internships and low paying public interest jobs.

The American left doesn't have to buy loyalty. It comes from the grass roots and isn't as homogeneous in its message because that message isn't dictated to it from the top down.

This doesn't mean that there is no paid political class on the left. There are plenty of legislative and executive branch staffers to Democratic politicians. Many of these people go on to be lobbyists or elected officials after they have paid their dues. A Republican Young Turk is rarely going to be effective at persauding a Democratic lawmaker to support or oppose legislation important to his or her client. And, while lobbyists are loyal to their clients, both Republican and Democratic lobbyists and PR firms are full of bright young professionals who value the opportunity to frame their client's objectives in ways that fight the good fight. The flow of influence in the lobbyist-client relationship is not a one way street. Client's express their interests to lobbyists, but lobbyists also pick and choose opportunities for their clients.

There is a place for think tanks. We are faced with a complex world, and bridging the gap from an academic understanding of issues, to concrete proposals for change, does take specialized expertise. But, while finding policy solutions is one thing, formulating political strategies is an area about which I'm more skeptical.

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