Popular Movements Are Not Funded By Billionaires and Oil Companies

by: Matt Stoller

Tue Aug 05, 2008 at 18:27


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.

Matt Stoller :: Popular Movements Are Not Funded By Billionaires and Oil Companies
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.  

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WTF??? (0.00 / 0)
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".

MoveOn was born in response to "the House Republicans and the rightosphere" trying to drive Clinton from office and/or bring the whole government to a screeching halt.

Isn't a good lie supposed to contain at least some sliver of truth?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

And wasn't Ruffini part of Rudy's campaign? (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Mostly. (0.00 / 0)
A movement that is of by and for the (selfish segment of) the extremely wealthy doesn't need a popular base to quite the same extent that a movement of by and for the people does.  Comparisons between American Right and Left involve a lot of apples to oranges, because the architecture of their constituency-alliance is so wildly different from the architecture of ours.

So, a movement made up entirely of paid staffers, as per Powell's memo to the Chamber of Commerce, is actually not that far off from their normal successful model.  It looks really weird to us, but it can work and has worked for them.

Their only grassroots constituencies in my memory have been the Evangelicals, and the white nativists (anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-UN, anti-elite, anti-gay, pro-war, pro-gun tribal types).  

Have the Republicans ever had a grassroots following for their energy policy?  We have an archetypically grassroots environmental movement; do they have a grassroots pro-industry movement?  I don't think they ever have, and they haven't needed it to kick our asses either.  Their paid staffers put in some calls to James Dobson, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Halperin, and they disseminate their message through the channels they've built to the audiences who are primed to believe them, despite not really caring about it.  Presto, 40% of the public appears in polling as "pro-drilling," even though not one of them is actually invested in the subject or would ever take a grassroots action to make it happen.

Grassroots action against abortion or immigration, sure.  But they have no grassroots backing whatsoever for most of their policies that involve money, and they've managed to get a lot of what they want anyway.

Shorter version: the Republican party is not a Popular Movement re: economics. (0.00 / 0)
Never has been, and hasn't needed to be to win and deliver.

[ Parent ]
not true (0.00 / 0)
The New Right was a genuine political movement supported by millions of people, largely out of a backlash to the civil rights movement and coordinated through direct mail and DC lobby, and Bush is a New Right politician.  Their base is dying out, but don't be deceived, the right had a popular base.

[ Parent ]
Great analogy (0.00 / 0)
Great analogy, Matt. Looks like a star...


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