A version of this went up yesterday, but I rewrote a few parts to make it clearer.
Each summer AEI holds a World Forum for chief executives of corporations where attendees are expected to make financial contributions to the think tank. - Rightweb
Ideas do not live in isolation, and how we prioritize them is more important than their strength. And this is where money comes in, because is a statement of priorities. The right has an entire system we like to deride, 'wingnut welfare', but Fox News made $300M last year and will be a cash cow for a long time to come. While Josh Marshall and Dailykos are self-sufficient, probably hitting in the $50k/month range for revenue, there is just no comparison in terms of the capital they can invest in ideas.
This operating disadvantage is true across the board for the new people in politics, as the operatives, organizers, and entrepreneurs are having a tough time building out the institutions that embed our ideas. There is a new economy coming, one based on a smaller republic that uses less carbon and doesn't have bases in 133 countries around the world, one where internet access, health care, and energy is universal. But the vanguard of that new system are only beginning to build their funding streams. In some cases, a lot of the people that make this stuff work are being ground into the dust. I know three people who have died since I started blogging, two of whom did not need to. While the situation may or may not be changing, a political entrepreneur in the internet space basically has four choices right now. One, work for a top-down institution that restricts one's ability to generate useful creative output. Two, consult without authority. Three, operate independently, and without scale. Four, quit. All of these reduce the value of possible creative output.
Interestingly, the most reliable source of money is small dollar donors online. And that makes sense. People who do online politics get online politics, and make it a priority in their lives. When the ask is good, online donors give. I went to Connecticut to blog about the Lamont campaign, but others have gone to Iraq, to cover the Libby trial, to New Hampshire, all over. That's not true with large dollar donors, who are still embedded in the old fossil fuel system of top down control. The record industry is full of wealthy autocratic socially liberal but fiscally nasty Democrats.
The Democracy Alliance had a mission statement to deal with this problem, sort of, though it was not an explicitly ideological group. Large foundations have a similar set of restrictive habits. In fact, since 2005, money for political innovation basically has not come through, except for a small set of organizations that have institutional heft. The pipeline of innovation really slammed shut in 2005. CAP, Media Matters, CREW, Center for Progressive Leadership, Atrios, Dailykos, ColorofChange, TPM, Progressive Majority, Actblue, FDL, Freepress, Yearlykos, Votevets, Progressive States - all of these were created or in process of being formed by 2005. It's undeniable that the progressive movement is stalled. This makes sense. Much of the urgency from Bush created the funding channel, so unless that sense of urgency returns, or unless an alternative argument for investment emerges, we will continue to fumble around, able to make noise but unable to govern.
There are two related problems. One, we don't have enough donors willing to step up, take risks, and get involved in an organization. I can't tell you how commonly I hear this line: 'I'd love to talk to you, I'll be back from Europe in two months'. There are some notable exceptions, of course, as with everything, but nothing approaches the ideological aggressiveness of the Olin Foundation of the right in the 1970s and 1980s. Two, we don't have a broker class of individuals who can form new organizations, and those individuals that exist are overwhelmed as it is running what they have set up. So really, it's up to the activist class, as it has been for years.
It's quite possible that nothing but a full scale financial crisis, pandemic, or natural disaster will restore the urgency necessary for large scale political innovation. The Civil War and the Great Depression, both of which were preceded by severe financial crises, were periods of intense political innovation. Demographic shifts can be catalytic as well, building new forms of organizing as we saw in the 1960s and 1970s. But in all honesty, with imperial and financial overreach, a global climate crisis, and the related need to transition off a fossil fuel-based economy, it seems much more likely that we won't do the rest of the innovation gradually. We're not even thinking about how to think about the problem of downsizing back to a republic. Innovation will come in spurts of tremendous growth, much as the union movement did in the 1930s, the dot-coms did in the 1990s, or the hedge fund market did until last year.
Governing is hard stuff, and it requires a real commitment to ideas. We're going to see just how hard in 2009, as our new President gets smacked around viciously by reactionary forces. It's going to be uglier and more confusing than the current political environment, since now we still sort of have the luxury of blaming all our problems on Bush. What's important to realize, though, is that the right faced this set of problems, and solved them. Irving Kristol and Norm Podhoretz spent ten years convincing business elites to prioritize their ideas, a slow arduous task from their perspective in a sea of liberalism. They saw, as we do today, a crisis, only they saw it in the riots in academia, the consumer rights movement, feminism, and drug use among their children. And they built a set of networks of people, money, and ideas to institutionalize their values. It's easy to suppose that four families really did everything, but really what happened was a brilliant organizing job by a whole slew of New Right operatives and neoconservative intellectuals.
So one obvious source of reliable support for our movement is the progressive corporate sector. Progressive corporate elites understand that a stable carbon policy is in their interest, universal health care takes a load off their shoulders, an open internet will drive profits and innovation, and an effective regulatory framework is essential to a functional set of capital markets. They know that a massive trade deficit is unsustainable, and they have children as well who will die in Avian flu pandemics. But they aren't yet able to invest in the ideas that are going to build a reliable and business-friendly America because of ignorance and fear.
Fox News understands this as well, because the neocons running it understand how money flows impact politics. That channel is terrified that they will lose advertisers from campaigns like Fox News Attacks Global Warming, and, after the Presidential debate loss, they realized we are a direct threat to them.
The goal of the Fox News attack is not to get Jet Blue to drop its sponsorship, it's to teach other companies a lesson.John Aravosis pointed out that Jetblue is not a particularly liberal company; their CEO is a Mitt Romney donor. But that doesn't really matter, the capital freeze is on. After all, does any company really want to incur the wrath of Fox News when they don't have to? This is not isolated to Fox News; here's another good example of right-wingers freezing out capital to the progressive movement, from Scott Cleland, a telecom shill: "Right now the mainstream consumer groups are giving Google a pass because they effectively bankroll the net neutrality movement." Cleland is a liar and an idiot, but he thinks consumer groups are being funded by Google because he's being funded by AT&T. And frankly, Google should be funding consumer groups, but it is not.
Yet another is New Media Strategies, a 'buzz marketing' firm that houses Fred Thompson's online strategists, but also pulls in money from all sorts of progressive to neutral corporate clients, like Hollywood studios. Lots of companies, rather than buying ads on liberal blogs, will simply hire buzz marketers like New Media Strategies, to get bloggers to write about their stuff. In other words, the value liberal bloggers create often goes to pay conservative-leaning firms.Sicko, for instance, engaged a whole suite of LieberDem-esque Democratic consultants to do PR, some of which went through the liberal blogosphere.
Our lack of institutional response to these threats is stalling, and that's why this Jetblue attack and the response is so significant. Yearlykos is a standard and reasonable venue for sponsorship. It's a conference of highly influential people who buy goods and wield a fair amount of political influence. Candidates, elected officials, and progressive players will be there. It's undeniably a useful conference for any corporate entity or PR firm. So it's great that Hillary Clinton defended YearlyKos, that CAP made a statement, and that Chris Dodd is coming out swinging. And this is meaningful stuff, it's not pandering. It's especially important that Clinton hit back at O'Reilly, because this cannot go unanswered. Conservative institutions from Fox News to AEI rely on corporate money, so they know how useful it can be. Expect more of these attacks from the right, because they don't play around. They go for the throat.
A lot of what I'm saying here might be controversial, most significantly the assertion that we need to begin to build significant organizational and financial bridges with corporate America. I'm not entirely sold on this model, and I'm just one person with one perspective on how this is all working. But from what I can see, the problem of building a functional movement is in a holding pattern right now, and the right is smartly working to exacerbate it.