New ideas?

Posted: Aug 15, 2005 12:00 AM

A group of wealthy Democratic Party partisans has announced a new partnership called the Democratic Alliance, through which millions of dollars will be funneled to a network of new and existing liberal think tanks to compete with conservative organizations. Reported commitments are $80 million over the next five years, with a goal of reaching $200 million.

According to press reports, these investors are frustrated at recent Democratic setbacks, most recently John Kerry's loss to President Bush last November. Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg calls conservative think tanks that have emerged over recent years an "information-age Tammany Hall" with which Democrats have not been adequately equipped to compete.

Maybe liberal strategists have been reading my column. I wrote last February that Democratic leaders "seem to have little appreciation of the extent to which Sen. Kerry's defeat in November reflected the total absence of ideas in the party."

So I applaud any new initiative by Democrats to enter into the world of thought and ideas. However, from what I'm reading, it seems questionable that this is really what is happening.

Although the stated objective of this effort is generating "new ideas," there is little hint what these ideas might be.

I surfed over to the Web site of one of these new think tanks, the Center for American Progress, set up a few years ago by Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, John Podesta, to get a sense of what this new agenda looks like. Here's the stated mission: "developing a long-term vision of a progressive America; providing a forum to generate new progressive ideas and policy proposals; responding effectively and rapidly to conservative proposals and rhetoric ..."

This sounds less like a think tank than a new, politically motivated forum for delivering old liberal ideas. Maybe what is new is calling high taxes and intrusive big government "progressive" instead of "liberal." A rose is a rose.

The great alleged insight on the left a few years ago was that conservative talk radio has been the conservative silver bullet to the hearts and minds of America. Again, not the conservative agenda, but conservative radio.

So Democratic deep-pocket types reached in to pull out the cash to create Air America to put Al Franken on the radio waves.

The most recent numbers that I've seen is that Air America ratings have done nothing but decline since it launched in 2004. National Review's Byron York reports that in New York City, WABC, which carries Rush Limbaugh, has been consistently beating Franken and Air America.

Americans are not deprived of the liberal _ now called "progressive" _ point of view. It's been with us since FDR. We are surrounded by it, from our public schools, to our universities (where 72 percent of faculty members identify themselves as liberals) to the media (where 7 percent of the national press identifies itself as conservative and 88 percent as moderate to liberal).

Certainly in the black community, support for the Democratic Party has been eroding because increasing numbers of blacks understand what "progressive ideas" have done to our community over the last 50 years.

The new Democratic strategists should take a close look at the results of a study just produced by Democratic pollsters Karl Agne and Stan Greenberg, based on focus groups done with rural voters in Wisconsin and Arkansas. The study concludes that cultural issues _ "gay marriage, abortion, the importance of the traditional family unit and the role of religion in public life" _ trump and swing these voters in favor of the Republican Party.

It is ironic that Democratic strategists cannot seem to grasp that the big-government themes and moral relativism that define their party disproportionately hurt lower-income groups. Reconciliation with the truth that traditional values and ownership are the best ticket into the American middle class will open the door to fresh thinking and new ideas in the Democratic Party and build new bridges to traditional Democratic constituencies.

From what I see, this new Democratic think tank initiative amounts to rich liberal elitists looking for new marketing techniques for their same old ideas.