Matthew Continetti writes at the Washington Free Beacon about the formation of an incredibly powerful lobbying group, composed of organizations that boast millions of political foot soldiers, with a total income measured in the billions of dollars. It plans to spend tens of millions of dollars pushing a rigid ideological agenda. It’s a textbook example of everything we are constantly told is “wrong” with Washington, a combination of big money, political self-interest, political influence, and secrecy.
But you’ve never heard about it before, for exactly one reason: it’s a liberal group, the “Democracy Initiative.” Its formation was assiduously ignored by media outlets… but, as Continetti aptly notes, the media would have gone absolutely bonkers if a comparable conservative group had been formed, as it would have included virtually every powerful and well-funded element of what Hillary Clinton memorably dubbed “the vast right-wing conspiracy.”
The Democracy Initiative is currently known to include “the AFL-CIO, the Center for American Progress, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Color of Change, Common Cause, Demos, the Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, Mother Jones (in a ???non-editorial??? capacity!), National People???s Action, the National Wildlife Federation, People for the American Way, the Piper Fund, Public Campaign, the Service Employees International Union, the United Auto Workers, and Voto Latino.”
But they’re just getting started, and not all of the participants have been publicly divulged in the very limited and obscure media coverage the group has received… which Continetti tallies as precisely three reports, two of them blog posts, and not even that level of attention was paid until six months after the formation of the Democracy Initiative.
Now, I come neither to praise the Democracy Initiative, nor to bury them. They have every right to join forces in the service of whatever ideas and policies they support. However, the point Continetti makes in his article is vital: the media treatment of such powerful lobbying and advocacy groups is utterly and completely distorted, and it has profound ramifications for the conduct of our public discourse, and our elections.
Conservative groups cannot operate with such minimal notice, and they are burdened with a presumption of sinister intent. Any effort a right-leaning mega-organization of comparable power made to influence the national conversation would be aggressively traced back to their offices, and portrayed as inherently dishonest, if not menacing. It is a staggering advantage for the Left that it doesn’t have to worry about that. Its efforts to influence public opinion are allowed to remain comfortably invisible; its groups receive automatic credit for high-minded public spirit. They are not accused of “selfishness,” and the media doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about how rich leftists can realize huge personal profit from initiatives they present as matters of selfless public interest. They enter every discussion as prosecutors, while their conservative and libertarian counterparts are treated as defendants. It’s not uncommon for reporters who jolly well know better to present partisan activists from left-wing organizations as non-partisan, non-ideological “experts.”
And it’s highly dubious there could be a right-wing group with the kind of power and money the Democracy Initiative has behind it. Continetti observes that this doesn’t stop them from indulging their permanent fantasy as plucky little folks, bravely speaking truth to power:
What little we know of the Democracy Initiative provides a useful lesson in the ability of fantasy to inspire political action. Progressivism sets the political and cultural and social agenda; it is embedded in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, in the academy, in journalism, and in much of corporate America; many of the richest counties in the nation support liberal Democrats; President Obama outraised and out-spent his Republican challenger; the combined budgets of progressive interest groups and foundations and think tanks and nonprofits and community organizations is practically incalculable; the most liberal president since Lyndon Baines Johnson is barreling ahead with a confrontational and ideological approach to cabinet appointments and budget fights; Republicans and conservatives are in their greatest state of shock and disarray since 1992 and perhaps since 1964; and yet progressive elites such as the well-compensated Radford of Greenpeace still are swinging at the windmill of the ???40-plus-year strategy by the Scaifes, Exxons, Coors, and Kochs of the world??? to ???take over the country.???
They know this image of threadbare rebellion against shadowy, all-powerful, predatory interests wins automatic sympathy from the American people, especially the fabled “low-information voters.” That’s why Obama was perpetually complaining about how badly he would be outspent in the 2012 campaign, and even falsely portrayed himself as an underdog in all of his previous campaigns, even though that has never been the case.
An entirely impartial “referee” watching over American politics would not find anything inherently wrong with either left- or right-wing people and organizations joining forces to promote their ideals. It is possible – indeed, essential – to disagree with those ideals without regarding their promotion as some sort of pseudo-crime. But instead, only some groups have to worry about labeling as “special interests” or “big money” that should be “kept out of politics.” Certain actors on the political stage are required to don certain costumes before joining the “national conversation.” Naturally, this distorts the quality of the conversation. Part of the continuing effort by conservatives to build media influence should include taking some control of the costume department.