I just came back from the Capitol, where Moveon volunteers and conservative movement group staffers were holding competing rallies around oil leasing (the full flickr set is here). Patrick Ruffini, one of the smartest consultants on the right, thinks this marks a turning point for the right. For the first time, he says, Moveon has mobilizes against "the House Republicans and the rightosphere".
The problem with this formulation is that the people that I spoke from Moveon came because they were volunteers, whereas the people from the pro-drilling groups were paid staffers from groups like the National Taxpayers Union and Dick Armey's FreedomWorks. I spent some time arguing with a nice young man from FreedomWorks about oil companies (though I'll spare you the video), and he was a law student who did economic policy for the group. These two groups are by and large funded by large companies, and they were formed by recognized conservative movement elites who came to power in the 1980s.
|In fact, the entire drill drill drill campaign originated with Newt Gingrich, hardly the kind of leadership you'd expect from a real grassroots uprising. His group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, got a large grant from Peabody Coal at about the same time this campaign started, and is backed by the same crew of billionaires helping Freedom's Watch. Contrast this to Moveon, which was founded by Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, or Dailykos, led by Markos Moulitsas-Zuniga, or even Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie of the New Right in the 1970s. These leaders came from the grassroots, and elevated a previously unorganized constituency into a powerful new voice. The Drill Drill Drill campaign has simply helped an existing powerful voice - the oil lobby - keep winning, the way it did earlier this year when it killed the Energy Bill in the Senate (with the help of John McCain and Mary Landrieu).
Now, this is not to say that the Drill, Drill, Drill campaign isn't popular. It is. But it is not some movement breakthrough on the right; new political movements are not populated entirely with paid staffers, funded by the extraordinarily wealthy winners of a society, and led by old over the hill political leaders. What is actually going on here is that the 1970s conservative movement is still around and still dominant. Right-wing billionaires are still funding Newt Gingrich, who is still dictating our agenda just as he did in the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. Conservative 'populism' in DC is still the same old Brooks Brothers Riot we saw in 2000, ie. paid staffers masquerading as grassroots.
The difference this time is that there is a Moveon to respond. It isn't working, because the political leadership of the Democratic Party and the environmental groups are still organized around the anti-partisan concepts of the 1970s that hamstrung Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Barack Obama. Moveon has no coalition to work with who will actually point out that offshore drilling is just the next dry hole after Iraq.
But don't get fooled into thinking that there's some new conservative movement out there. There isn't. The only kind of movements that are populated entirely by paid staffers are those movements that still have power but have lost their popular base. It's a lot like a red Giant; it looks like a star and is in fact bigger than it used to be, but it has lost all its fuel.