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Needed: A Vast Liberal Conspiracy

Ana Marie Cox

For all the indoctrination going on — you know, gay recruitment, media bias, and liberal professor brainwashing — it’s awfully hard to find the central headquarters for the side that supposedly won the culture war. Believe me, I’ve tried. 

I know the right has recruitment centers and even training programs for young people interested in joining — and possibly leading — the conservative movement. There’s the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), which funds dozens of conservative college papers and several full-tuition scholarships in addition to running a speakers’ bureau and various conferences for future conservative leaders. Recipients of the ISI’s largess include Larry Arnn, the current president of Hillsdale College, as well as younger conservative leaders like Marc Theissen, who edited the ISI-sponsored Vassar Spectator and until recently was an aide to Jesse Helms. 

The Arlington, Virginia-based Leadership Institute, meanwhile, has an alumni list that reads like a Fox News guest roster: anti-campaign finance reform crusader Senator Mitch McConnell, tax-slashing strategist Grover starve the state” Norquist, and Ralph Reed have all attended one of the organization’s various programs (which include Effective Television Techniques” — parts I and II, mind you — and Candidate Development”).

All this from the side of the aisle that claims to be under siege from liberal media elites.” If the left controls the culture, shouldn’t there be some place where we go to learn how to do this? 

In order to find out, I first did what any college student looking for information would do: I searched the Web. Using Google, first I tried liberal leadership training,” which produced mostly a selection of liberal arts colleges course catalogs. Then I tried progressive leadership training,” which scored a direct hit! Alas, www​.pro​gres​sive​lead​er​ship​.com is not the left’s answer to ISI, but rather an international executive coaching and leadership development firm.” 

The more motivated student might actually, say, pick up the phone or thumb through lefty magazines. Where would this take our hypothetical young would-be progressive leader? That’s a very good question,” says Nick Penniman, a youngish progressive leader himself and the executive editor of Tom​Paine​.com. It’s sad, actually. There’s no clear overarching organization.”

Let’s be clear: Part of the reason it’s more difficult to find liberal leadership training is that there is less money floating in liberal coffers. But some sources of funding do exist: The Florence Fund gave Tom​Paine​.com, for instance, $2 million. The Tides Foundation regularly hands out grants of tens of thousands of dollars to groups such as Adbusters magazine and NORML. There’s some money out there: Won’t someone use it to train progressive leaders? 

Hans Riemer, the Washington director of Rock the Vote, suggests that a search for progressive leadership training” was not, perhaps, focused enough. He advises looking for environmental leadership training” or feminist leadership training,” and, sure enough, this produces results. If you want to save the earth or protect reproductive rights, you can sign up with the Green Corps’ Field School or the Feminist Leadership Institute. 

This is heartening, and yet it also feels like a symptom of a larger problem: the chronic homelessness of many would-be progressive leaders. Activists with a liberal bent seem to instinctively distrust institutions that are directly connected to the dominant system. It’s almost bred into you,” Riemer says. You’re taught that party politics are evil and you don’t have any leaders that you’re really excited about. You just sort of focus on your cause.” 

The conservative movement doesn’t suffer from this split between an activist” wing and a political wing: They are one and the same. The success that such right-wing activists as Reed and Norquist have had in actually formulating government policy begs the question of their counterparts in the Democratic Party: Who thinks Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange, will be advising senators on the draft of the next trade bill? Could Eli Pariser, the director of the progressive coalition MoveOn​.org, be a successful campaign consultant? 

The Democrats have shunned liberal activists on the theory that all major elections hinge on a sliver of undecided centrist voters. This leads to centrist candidates who, to inquisitive voters, appear indecisive. Recently, the Democratic Leadership Council, self-appointed party strategists of the 2004 election, underlined this point by launching an attack on former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Until he distinguished himself by opposing the invasion of Iraq, Dean was himself a DLC poster boy — he’s the only Democratic candidate, for instance, to earn an A rating from the National Rifle Association. Lately, however, he’s built upon the groundswell of support that greeted his Iraq statements with further attacks on the more mainstream candidates, declaring himself to be from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.”

In full responsible-adult scold mode, the DLC denounced Dean as being from the McGovern-Mondale wing” of the party, the wing that … transformed Democrats from a strong national party into a much weaker regional one.” In other words, while the available supply of trained liberal leaders continues to dwindle, the party long associated with liberal reform now seems bent on wiping out the demand for them as well. 

There’s the vast liberal conspiracy: All dressed down, with no place to go. 

For the conservatives, the activist wing and the political wing are one and the same.
Ana Marie Cox is the brains behind Wonkette, one of the most popular political blogs on the web. She is also the former editor of the dearly departed suck​.com and has written for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mother Jones, Wired and Spin.
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