Following Right behind

BY ALLISON WHITE

AS THE NEW YORK Observer reported last week, the New York Times has assigned writer David Kirkpatrick to “examine conservative forces in religion, politics, law, business and the media.” In short: he’s on the conservative beat.

No word on how many reporters the Times will assign to the liberal beat. (You can insert your own joke there.)

And there’s no word on whether he’ll be fully embedded among conservative forces. (You can insert your own joke there, too.)

It not hard to extract a little humor out of this absurd situation. To think that the Times would, for reasons benign or malicious, assume that “conservatives” can be isolated from the general social debates – golly, now that we’ve reported on the news, let’s see what the conservatives have to say these days – reflects how out of touch its editors are even without Howell Raines sullying the gray lady’s masthead. Whether they like it or not, “conservative” thought is much more than a marginalized viewpoint on the issues of the day. Instead, its doctrines are largely among the dominant views of the Heartland, the South, the Southwest, and pretty much every locale below “Paris” on the average liberal’s Places to Vacation list. Conservatives are no mere cabal among a larger national dialogue.

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But the absurdity of the Times’ rediscovery of American conservatism belies a larger truth. It is a symptom of the Left’s critical illness: its willful ignorance of the decades-old grassroots efforts of the Right which finally have come to fruition, upending Liberal power structures in the realms of politics, law, academia and society generally. And while the Times’s readership may press its nose up to the glass of its new window on the world, it will likely persist in its refusal to truly solve its systematic impotence to mimic GOP successes. They issue press releases, but they don’t follow through.

In the years following George Bush’s inauguration, liberals have found themselves in exile from the strongholds of power. They see conservative institutions – policy thinktanks, the Federalist Society, talk radio – and assume that they can fashion out of whole cloth their own versions, to compete with their conservative counterparts. But they lack any and all patience to build these up from the grassroots, over the course of years. Instead, they attempt to build from the top down. Like planting a full-grown oak tree on a parking lot, with comparable prospects for success.

For decades following the New Deal, conservative thinkers were exiled from the strongholds of academia. Instead of shutting down their minds and pens, they created a hospitable environment for research and publication in thinktanks: the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Cato Institute. Each of these groups grew over years, learning to raise funds and to fashion output best suited for intake by policymakers. Liberals, not willing to spend years building up a critical mass of grass rooting, has in two years announced their own partisan thinktanks, to great fanfare (see the Clinton crowd’s Center for American Progress) and even greater funding (see megamillionaire George Soros’s Open Society Institute). The groups have been successful in self-promotion, but lacking in any demonstration of commitment to any cause besides the removal from office of our current Commander-in-Chief. Will they have any purpose once a Democrat takes office? Will they even care… before the Republican takes office again?

Similiarly, legal scholars unwelcome amidst Brennanist supremacy forged a Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy two decades ago. For years the group toiled in national anonymity, producing its journals and white papers, gathering for debates and building up a core constituency and system of foundational principles. Only once liberals saw their stranglehold on legal scholarship and debate loosened – most notably by the President’s decision not to let the ABA “vet” judicial nominees – did America learn of the Federalist “cabal.” Not coincidentally, only months later did liberals come together to create a “liberal Federalist Society” – the American Constitution Society.

Not content to let its localized predecessor, the Madison Society, slowly grow into its role, the ACS was pronounced by Larry Tribe, Janet Reno, Abner Mikva and Walter Dellinger to be the fully-formed counterweight to the Federalist Society. But in two years it’s offered no credible evidence that it actually desires to mimic the Federalists’ substantive efforts. No white papers. No organized journals. Just Hillary Clinton speeches and joint events with MoveOn.org. A reporter for the ABA Journal once asked me how active ACS is at HLS. He told me that Larry Tribe had insisted that it was very active. “To be honest,” I told him, “the only active member I know at HLS is Larry Tribe.” And I wonder if Tribe will even care, ten years hence, unless the Federalist Society is still thriving.

The list goes on. Talk radio. FoxNews. Each apparent conservative success is followed by the fanfare of liberal press releases announcing a fully-formed counterweight, only to be abandoned in silence mere months later. If patience is a virtue, then the DNC is a house of ill repute.

The Times is watching conservatives. Liberals will glean some surface impressions and race off to recreate it amongst themselves. And given their track record thus far, and their commitment to really build themselves a grassroots community of ideas in these areas of effort, I’m sure that they will be busy for a year or two. And for a year a decade from now. Maybe some day they’ll get it right.

Adam White is Editorial Page Editor of the Record. His column appears weekly

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