Think Tanks and Democratic versus Republican Ideas
I’ve criticized Kos plenty around here, and my review of one excerpt from Crashing the Gate was not very favorable. I’ll balance this today by commenting on an unfavorable review in The Daily Standard (apparently a site for those who cannot wait an entire week to be spoon fed the latest conservative talking points from The Weekly Standard) writes:
Moulitsas and Armstrong’s solution? The Democratic party should develop appendages like the Heritage Foundation–and from those newly spawned organizations, a raft of brilliant ideas will emanate telling progressives what to believe in and what to fight for.
The idea doesn’t bear much scrutiny. What would happen if the Democrats’ version of the Heritage Foundation decided to focus on education and developed a policy prescription that antagonized the teachers unions? Or what if the progressive policy thinkers came up with changes to the legal or healthcare systems that didn’t diligently protect the interests of trial lawyers?
BUT THE MOST DISTURBING question raised by Crashing the Gate is if progressives don’t know what they’re fighting for, then why are they fighting so hard?
In true Rovian style, they attempt to take two of the weakest aspects of the modern conservative movement and pretend they are strengths in the hope that readers will not realize the degree to which liberals are far stronger here. It is the same logic conservatives used to promote their candidate who evaded military service and filed to complete his national guard service over a veteran who served with distinction. They use bogus attacks where the opposition is really stronger, counting on the Republican noise machine to obfuscate the truth.
The reason for liberals to develop structures analogous to the Heritage Foundation is their ability to spread beliefs, not due to the need for liberals to figure out what we are fighting for. Of course, as liberals tend to promote positions based upon their efficacy, while conservatives promote plans based upon the needs of their special interests, liberal thank tanks would be more likely to develop practical solutions to problems. If these foundations have been successful in spreading conservative ideas, imagine how much such a foundation could do if they actually had good ideas to work with! As conservatives in recent years have abandoned their principles in return for power, leaving Democrats as the only party offering meaningful solutions to today’s problems, Republicans try to hide this by claiming liberals have no ideas.
Showing that it is liberals and not conservatives who are proposing ideas to solve today’s major problems is beyond the scope of a single blog post. I have touched on this topic in the past, including here and here. Jonathan Chait addressed this earlier in the week, writing Republicans Are Out of Ideas. John Kerry proposed many ideas during the campaign, many of which are available in Our Plan for America. While Crashing the Gate was intended to be about strategy, not ideas, there are numerous other books which concentrate on ideas. Two which come immediately to mind are The Pro-Growth Progressive: An Economic Strategy For Shared Prosperity by Gene Sperling and The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America’s Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love by Matthew Miller.
While liberals are the ones today with ideas to solve problems, it is actually conservatives who do what the above quote accuses liberals of. It is Republicans whose plans are devised to protect their interest groups. Republican educational proposals are frequently tokens to maintain the support of the religious right. Looking at health care, neither single payer plans popular with many liberals, or the incremental plans advocated by John Kerry and Howard Dean, in any way protect the trial lawyers as claimed by The Daily Standard. Even with malpractice, John Kerry was not willing to allow the interests of trial lawyers to stand in the way of his health care program. Kerry wrote, in his book A Call to Service:
“Medical malpractice is another area in which my plan would control costs. This is a subject which some Democrats have shied away from, fearing that it might offend trial lawyers, an important source of campaign dollars for many Democratic candidates.”
In comparison, Bush’s major health care initiative which has passed, the Medicare drug plan, was primarily a way to reward the pharmaceutical and insurance industries for their generous financial support (previously discussed here, here, and here). Bush’s other health care proposal, Health Savings Accounts, fails to address current health problems (here, here,and here), while rewarding Bush supporters.