Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why the Angry Right Can’t Be Dismissed So Easily

Check out this insightful blog post by Jeff Blodgett from the Wellstone Action website which details the rise of the conservative, populist Right. He makes several points which I will quote here:
The resurgence of organized conservative activity was written about in a recent New York Times piece about Dick Armey and his influential movement organization, FreedomWorks. There are three points that strike me about about the conservative movement now:

ECONOMIC CONSERVATIVES ARE IN ASCENDANCE -- growing in influence and setting strategy for the right. The social religious wing, dominant in the Bush administration, has become less effective and relevant. Their message is angry, populist, and economic: FreedomWorks' slogan is: Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom. Government takeover is their bogeyman. In 2010, they will focus on exploiting the economic pain in the country, railing against spending and taxes, and blaming all government and certain incumbents.

CONSERVATIVES ARE BORROWING FROM THE PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT -- The NYT article quotes FreedomWorks staff saying that they are making close study of Saul Alinsky and other community organizers. Like progressives, the other side is increasing conservative candidate development (NY-23 and in GOP primaries all over the country), and improving their grassroots advocacy skills (like the impression made at August town halls).

THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT CONTINUES TO BE BETTER FUNDED -- FreedomWorks, just one of many groups, easily raised $7 million from donors in 2008, including single gifts of $1 million and $750,000. The Leadership Institute, the premier training center for the right, sustains an $8 million dollar annual budget--at least twice the budget of any of comparable groups (like Wellstone Action) on the progressive side. Americans for Prosperity, another key conservative economic group has 73 staff people nationally and in 20 states.

These People Are Not Joking

One thing in which conservatives have been successful -- and which I am still in a bit of a disbelief —- is to take on the mantle of economic populism and use that as a rallying cry against the Democratic administration. Who would have thought a few short years ago that the economic populists who would have the most political impact in hard economic times in the U.S. would be conservatives railing against Democrats?

I have always thought that in tough economic times, old-school Marxists, Socialists and Progressive populists would find a ready audience for their message and we’d have a working and middle class radicalized and mobilized en masse to fight for working peoples’ interests like in the 1930s. I have always thought that the Progressive Left had superior arguments in advocating for working peoples’ interests against free-market conservatives and that Progressive Populism will explode in popularity in times of economic crisis. After all, didn’t the economic policies which have caused this mess we are in based on radical, free-market ideology as espoused by economists like Milton Friedman and implemented as policy by his followers in government? And in finding someone to blame, that most people would naturally gravitate to its opposing viewpoint?

Boy was I wrong! Instead of resulting in an army of modern-day Eugene Debses, exploding into popular culture are the current heroes of conservative populism like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who have massive followings among ordinary, working people. Sarah Palin’s book just came out today and is a huge bestseller drawing crowds of hundreds of people at her book signings.

Something is going on in American culture in this time of economic crisis and for some reason, the Right is tapping into the psyche of ordinary working Americans in a big way that I have never seen Progressives do in recent memory. Those who oppose these conservative populists and who laugh at, ridicule and dismiss them as irrelevant do so at their own peril. It is very easy to dismiss Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and laugh them off as bad jokes. But these people and the movement they represent is no joke. They are organized, well-funded and, whether we like it or not, wildly popular and with a large constituency.

A New Approach for Progressives?

I have yet to see from Progressives wide discussion of innovative approaches in engaging this conservative populist movement. Jeff Blodgett frames the fight to be had along the lines of the 2010 Congressional Elections and that engagement would be defined as stopping the election of Republicans into Congressional seats—with the implication being electing Democrats into these seats or preventing Republican takeover of these Democratic seats will be the definition of victory.

For me that is not good enough. We’ve all seen this year how getting both a Democratic majority in Congress and a Democratic President in the White House doesn’t necessarily translate into getting Progressive agenda enacted into public policy. Helping make Congress a solidly Democratic turf in 2010, therefore, doesn’t necessarily translate into a victory for Progressives.

The discussion among Progressives should be centered on how to harness this society-wide anger and frustration with the tough economic times and channel them towards ends that are unmistakably Progressive—but without resorting to electing Democrats as the default position. Can it be done? I don’t know. But I can’t see any other way.

8 comments:

The Angry Independent said...

"One thing in which conservatives have been successful -- and which I am still in a bit of a disbelief —- is to take on the mantle of economic populism and use that as a rallying cry against the Democratic administration."

But the whole premise that they are standing on is false, with no logical basis. They don't actually understand the workings behind why they are angry...they are angry for the sake of opposing Obama and a Democratic Administration and Congress. (I'll post another clip for you in a moment). This argument would make sense if the economic collapse occurred under a Democratic President and was primarily driven by Progressive policy. But that's simply not the case. So the premise for this view is false.

To get to the point (because I don't have much time), the vast majority of these folks would be upset with Obama and the Democrats no matter what. If they didn't have the economy to rally them...it would be something else.

Boy was I wrong! Instead of resulting in an army of modern-day Eugene Debses, exploding into popular culture are the current heroes of conservative populism like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who have massive followings among ordinary, working people.

Again, you are giving too much credence to their "populism". Sure, it's a populism.... but it's a phony one. Limbaugh has a massive following because he is syndicated on over 500 stations worldwide. He is essentially force-fed to the American people, including our troops overseas (in all military theaters where our folks are stationed).

In other words, this has more to do with the media structure in this Country and the imbalance it currently has. One of my Professors had a class discussion on this a couple of weeks ago...and he supports my view (he's a Wash. U. political scientist). Basically if folks living in current Confederate territory and elsewhere (my recycled term) had access to a wider variety of information, then views may be different. The economy (which collapsed under their Presidential leadership) always creates a backlash...often not based on facts.

I also believe the economy is a convenient excuse for those who want to find any reason to oppose Democrats and Progressives....again, the opposition would be there anyway, no matter what. Current economic conditions are simply more convenient for creating that opposition...and it has made the opposition more fierce. It has served to make them more organized and intense in their opposition.


(Continued)

The Angry Independent said...

Something is going on in American culture in this time of economic crisis and for some reason, the Right is tapping into the psyche of ordinary working Americans in a big way that I have never seen Progressives do in recent memory. Those who oppose these conservative populists and who laugh at, ridicule and dismiss them as irrelevant do so at their own peril. It is very easy to dismiss Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and laugh them off as bad jokes. But these people and the movement they represent is no joke. They are organized, well-funded and, whether we like it or not, wildly popular and with a large constituency.

Something is going on alright.... but it has nothing to do with facts. Folks are being bamboozled by the Rights media savvy. Their propaganda efforts are working.... they almost always payoff.

This is where I believe you are confused...and it is where I have to disagree. What you call a legitimate grassroots movement.... I call an AstroTurf movement, built mostly on propaganda. The reaction you are seeing is an outgrowth of a massive and effective propaganda effort.

This is about the effective use of information.... something that Progressives have failed to figure out. This is where the disconnect is for Progressives.

[whether we like it or not, wildly popular and with a large constituency.]

I agree that they are well funded...but I would add that much of their success comes from the fact that they are driven by a well organized media apparatus. None of what is happening surprises me.... I have been saying and predicting this for years now. until there is true media parity, this will continue.

But the part about their wild popularity....w/ a large constituency... I can't exactly agree with. What data do you have to support this conclusion?


(Continued)

The Angry Independent said...

They are as popular as Faux News and Talk Radio make them.

They are as popular as their predisposed biases make them.

Yes- they have a more active base... and a more organized opposition... which gives the impression that this movement is bigger than it actually is.

Is it big... yes. Much of that is because the Progressives are not unified and are atrocious when it comes to the media game. They get trounced each and everyday.

Is it a movement? Certainly...and they do have substantial backing. They have even been able to lure support from independents. (this is the dangerous part for Progressives).

But how legitimate this movement is...that's another question. You are giving too much credence to snake oil salesmen. They are like traveling evangelical preachers who claim to cure ailments on the spot and ask you to call in and send money. The problem for Progressives and Independents (who are being suckered by their PR savvy) is that there are millions of these salesmen and preachers. And the major media is complicit in the whole thing.

If this were a real PR battle...a real battle of ideas and ideals and if it were taking place on a level playing field, I have no doubt that Progressive ideas and ideals would win.

There is also the problem of a lack of civic education (education in general) among the citizenry...making them ripe for all sorts of propaganda (death panels, and all sorts of other nonsense). An ill informed population creates all sorts of problems. This creates the condition where it's much easier for the false preachers (the Right wing pundits) to sell the fears and lies than it is for sensible people to unravel them. After a while, there are more falsehoods than truth...and you end up with all sorts of misdirected outrage.
But again... for most of the folks protesting... they wouldn't switch sides even if they had the correct info. It's the Independents that Democrats and Progressives should concentrate on winning back and keeping. And to do that... they will need to build a media apparatus that can compete.

This is about a PR war...it's about media...it's about information...and it's about a battle of ideas and ideals. It also has to do with political organizing and good political strategy. On that front, Progressives are losing badly. Part of that has to do with the fact that Progressives represent a much more diverse constituency with divergent interests...so they aren't as politicized, and engaged...at least not as engaged on the same issues. When that happens, there is no synergy. What Conservatives have is a lot of synergy.... their issues are a lot more narrowly focused...and it is easier to find common ground among them... even with Republican infighting.

But again, this is more to do with PR...information, media, and organization. It has little to do with serious grassroots movements.

rikyrah said...

something involving firearms is going to happen with this group; when that happens, they need to be dropped like a bad habit. the hammer of the law needs to come down on them with brutality.

Liberal Arts Dude said...

Post #1

A disclaimer: I hope the impression I am giving by studying this right wing movement is not one of legitimizing them and therefore, giving my tacit approval to its negative and abhorrent aspects. What I am hoping to accomplish in my series of posts is to try and understand what makes them tick and to go beyond the impression of them as unthinking, irrational bigots. Because despite that, they are developing as a force in a way that I never expected. I disagree with what they stand for but I have no choice but to acknowledge that in a lot of ways their methods and organizing have been quite successful.

With that said the Angry Independent makes several good points:

• Many of these conservative populists do not have a sound, intelligent argument for their beliefs and opposition to Democrats, the Obama Administration in particular. They are primarily motivated by hate, racism, and irrational hatred.

• This movement is a creation of right-wing PR firms, Fox News, Limbaugh, Beck and is not a genuine grassroots movement. They are likely not nearly as pervasive and powerful as they seem to be because of the media support they are getting from the conservative infrastructure.

• The populism these people espouse is not real but fake populism. Their activities are solely focused on obstructing the policies of the Obama administration and will not result in any true benefits to working class people in the end.

On point #1, I agree that many of these people might be exactly as described. These people are the types that no matter what Progressives do they will never win them over because for all their economic grievances, their bigotry and racism will always outweigh any common interests they might have with other working class folk especially racial and ethnic minorities.

But I have found that there are thinking, rational people among their ranks who are genuinely motivated by conservative philosophy and who find both the Republican and Democratic establishments to be intolerable. This is not to say I agree with them -- this is just to say that I think treating these people as a monolithic mass of unthinking bigotry is not accurate.

Liberal Arts Dude said...

ost #2

On point #2, yes the deep pockets and resources of the conservative infrastructure is a huge part of their success. Gathering permits for marches, organizing buses for trips to DC, distributing talking points, researching and poaching organizing methods from Progressives, etc. takes money and coordination that ordinary folks who are not professional organizers simply do not have. In addition, the mass media megaphone of Limbaugh and Co. serves as a great mobilization tool for popular education that Progressives simply haven't been able to match.

I don’t disagree. But these only serve to reinforce my earlier point that this movement has taken on a life of its own, is gathering momentum and is not going to go away anytime soon. They are becoming a force to be reckoned with and the more Progressives understand them and their operations the better.

Point #3 -- This movement is starting to have an influence that goes way beyond their membership. Politicians from both parties are showboating their pandering to this right-wing movement. These Tea Partiers have accomplished something in a relatively short period of time that I have never seen the American left do in my lifetime – they have instilled fear into many incumbents both on the Republican and Democratic side.

The big question for me is -- what do we do about it?

There have been recent efforts that are more militant and more confrontational in putting forth a Progressive populist agenda. These are examples of what Progressives can do to offer an alternative to right wing populism. But I agree with the Angry Independent that absent a comparable infrastructure to support their efforts, these Progressives are operating at a disadvantage. Item #2 should be to build that communications and organization infrastructure.

Robert M said...

I do not know if you read Pam's House Blend. She is covering how angry the very people you wrote about are angry at being abandoned by Sarah Palin at her book signing. If ever there was an opportunity to peel these people from the Republican Party this is it. Their heroine abandoned them. Betrayal is a powerful emotion.

The Democratic Party should have a operative who can talk to these folks in their vernacular. You can make an argument about how the Obama adminstrations plans are good for them and the country.

Anonymous said...

I consider myself conservative. It would be fun to cover many points I agree with and disagree with on this thread. But to make one simple point, I use to "like" things about Republicans and "dislike" things about Democrats. But when Bush started with this massive TARP spending, I changed from "liking" Republicans to really detesting Washington's big spending/bailout ways. This fear of government driving our currency into dust which started under Republican leadership, has in my opinion not decreased, but accelorated with Democrat leadership. Thus I see the current administration as even worse than the previous one I learned to despise. If you are married and you were in a personal financial crisis, what would you think of your spouse buying a whole bunch of new stuff? Panic and fury! Sure, to be honest, if everything was going great, I probably would still find fault with Dems and favor Republicans, but I'm energized and politically active now because of straight out basic over spending. Give me a balanced budget and I'll go ahead and vote for any health insurance or Prius rebate you want, but stop making our currancy worthless paper.Mike Hatcher