BY JON LAMBERSON
I NEVER KNEW ANY conservatives growing up. Thus it came as something of a surprise to find out in Adam White’s column last week (“Following Right Behind,” 2/5/04) that conservatives have been busily pursuing “decades-old grassroots efforts … upending Liberal power structures in the realms of politics, law, academia and society generally.”
Why didn’t anybody tell me that conservative thought had become the “dominant” viewpoint in our country? Or that my fellow Liberals lack “any and all patience to build up from the grassroots?” Maybe it’s because the phrase “conservative grassroots” is an oxymoron and a lie.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the “grass rooting” our favorite Conservative think tanks have been up to. Take the American Enterprise Institute, for example. They’ve certainly been busy building up “grassroots” support from the CEOs of Exxon, Merck, Dow Chemicals and Motorola (all members of their board of trustees, along with former members Kenneth Lay and Dick Cheney).
The Heritage Foundation has enjoyed the “grassroots” efforts of the Coors family, Steve Forbes and Jay Van Andel (founder of Amway). The Hoover Institute has done a wonderful job mobilizing “grassroots” support for its efforts to privatize all social services and promote the legacy of the president who engineered the Great Depression.
And let’s not forget our friends at the Cato Institute. Started with a $500,000 grant from Charles Koch, a chemical and petroleum heir, Cato’s president Ed Crane recently noted, “I think Franklin Roosevelt was a lousy president.” He must have been referring to that whole winning World War II thing. That was lousy. There’s a statement that could mobilize some “grassroots” support.
Meanwhile, the poor Left. If you believe Mr. White, we have no grassroots except for our efforts to copy the right. Adam probably thinks groups like Planned Parenthood get so much support from the government that they have no need to rely on individuals. Greenpeace and the Sierra Club can of course rely on corporate sponsorship. PETA has always enjoyed the support of the meatpacking industry. And the entire civil rights (and now equal rights) movement? No citizen involvement necessary there.
The truth, however, is that the Left is nothing but grassroots. We have to be. The definition of grassroots is, “people or society at a local level rather than at the center of power.” The Right already seems to have snatched up all those who stand at the center of power in this country. The grassroots is all we have left to choose from. I, for one, am happy to have them in our tent.
And contrary to what the conservative media may lead you to believe, efforts that members of the Right have taken to win over the hearts and minds of America are vastly overstated. Conservatives can’t exactly go door to door looking for donations to help dismantle Medicare and Medicaid. “Excuse me, Miss. I represent a group of millionaire CEOs, and we’re trying to raise money to help increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies. Would you care to donate?”
In contrast, groups like the state PIRGs go door to door every day trying to raise money (and support) for various progressive causes. And let’s not forget the fact that Al Gore received more votes in the last election than any presidential candidate except Saint Ronald Reagan. Sort of makes you wonder where that grassroots support was for Bush. And, no, we’re not bitter, thank you very much.
Harvard Law students have the ugly habit of being self-absorbed. We often ignore reality. Mr. White tried to overcome this deficiency of ours at least once in his column when he noted that the left was “lacking in any demonstration of commitment to any cause besides the removal from office of our current Commander-in-Chief.” This statement is almost correct (which is the best I can seem to hope for out of conservatives these days). I would change it only slightly: removing Bush from office is not the only cause that we are committed to. It’s just the one to which we are most committed right now.
My grassroots versus your grassroots? We’ll see you in November, Adam.
Jon Lamberson is Publisher of The Record.