The Silent Forces That Will Shape the '08 Political Landscape

Those who read this column know well that on any given day, I might seem more conservative or more liberal. The fact is that my years of being involved in American politics, and my more recent years of polling and commenting on it, allow me to share different views from all sides of the political spectrum.

When I wrote last week that cash for votes is a likelihood in Iowa, few readers seemed shocked. Yet it’s the rare political writer who will confront the reality of these kinds of things going on behind the scenes.

So this week I want to focus on some of the supposedly “non-biased” organizations and groups that, in their own ways, will influence how we think and vote in the upcoming election cycle.

First, for the most controversial and tough-to-pin-down groups — religious ones. For those with disdain for the so-called religious right, let me calm you by reminding you that the strength of the various “nonprofits” that somehow find their leaders backing certain presidential candidates has been greatly diminished. This is partly because of the semi-retirement or death of some of their more prominent leaders. It’s also a result of a territorial split that has virtually every “Christian conservative” group backing a different GOP candidate.

Christian organizations are not the only religious groups that will try to play a role in this year’s presidential contest. While candidate Barack Obama is Christian, there has been at least anecdotal evidence that he is popular with Muslims in the U.S.

Don’t think for a minute this hasn’t occurred to other Democratic presidential campaigns, which are doubtless tempted to tie to “organized religion” the huge number of $100 and lesser contributions made over the Internet to Obama’s campaign. The key being, of course, that this organized religion “for” Obama might not be his own, but instead Islam.

Then there are the seemingly disinterested think tanks and foundations that supply endless facts and, sometimes, polling data to the media.

We all know about conservative think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and others, that are identified by the media almost without hesitation as being “right-wing.”

But for every organization like Newt Gingrich‘s American Solutions, or the well-established Heritage Foundation, there is a liberal corollary that somehow is never identified as being liberal.

The way it works is that journalists, debate panelists, political commentators and others will put huge disclaimers on any work done by a “conservative” foundation or nonprofit, while treating information from longer-standing but left-leaning organizations as being above reproach for political bias.

In his recently published book, “Foundations of Betrayal,” author and commentator Phil Kent meticulously mines the history of foundations and organizations that are often used by candidates or the media when analyzing issues or establishing “the facts.”

In his book, Kent chronicles how apparently benign groups such as the Ford Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Carnegie Foundation, to name a few, have immense influence over government policy and public opinion.

Yet their work seems predicated less on the kind of dispassionate research one expects from centers for research and policy, and more on a particular political philosophy — liberal philosophy.

Nevertheless, the work of these big-name institutions can be found in newspaper articles, polls and “white papers” (issues papers) that often are presented as gospel truth by journalists or politicians.

Just like so much in this world, these organizations and those who rely on their information have a huge double standard. These founts of information aren’t made to submit themselves to scrutiny meant to uncover their biases and don’t have their information flagged with disclaimers when it’s circulated by media and others. Liberal research is often treated as fact, in other words, and conservative research as conjecture or propaganda.

As you watch political coverage in the coming presidential election year, especially on TV networks known to feel more comfortable to the left of the political center, make note of who they cite as sources for their “facts,” data and polling.

You may even want to extend your vigilance to the commentary from these networks’ “experts.” Twice now I’ve seen network analysts declare John McCain the winner of a GOP presidential debate, right after McCain’s debate answers nearly got him booed off the stage.

Incompetence or intellectual dishonesty isn’t pretty, whether it comes from the left or right.