The Democracy Initiative: a Coup in Plain Sight

Matthew Continetti, one of my favorite writers, wrote an eye opener last week, "'A Conspiracy so Immense': ideological commitment and the timidity of pragmatic politics", too late for me to discuss in my column. It is one of the most important stories you'll ever read anywhere and shows how far behind conservatives are in the fight against "progressive " ideologues.

He picks up on a report by Andy Kroll in Mother Jones about a coordinated effort by about 36 different interest groups with reported revenues of no less than $1.69 billion, pledging millions of dollars to work together to attack conservative supporters and organizations, to intervene directly in Democratic politics, to push for filibuster reform to better enable a push through their agenda without any input from the opposition, and expanding "voting rights" and fighting voter registration laws to further grease the skids for their legislative agenda.

The group's organizers are Michael Brune, formerly director of the radical Rainforest Action Network, and presently director of the Sierra Club , Phil Radford, head of Greenpeace, Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America and Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP.

All of this is taking place with no comment by the media -- which like their counterparts in academia, Hollywood. Silicon Valley (and unfortunately too many big corporations) -- are ideological partners in "progressivism".

Here are some of the highlights of the article, though I strongly urge you read it all:

1. Who belongs: Kroll didn't name all the participants in the organization's latest retreat in December which took place within blocks of the White House at the headquarters of the National Education Association. Here are those he did name:

"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. Brune of the Sierra Club predicts there will be 50 participating organizations by spring."

2. How much money will they throw into their effort? Continetti thinks there should be "at least two high numerals inserted before Kroll's estimate of "millions of dollars". This from people claiming they want to get money out of politics.

Continetti repeatedly attacks the mainstream media for failing to cover this story, concluding,

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."

Someone needs to give the members of the Democracy Initiative a tap on the shoulder, a kick in the pants, a wonk-like nudge -- anything to wake them from their fantasy of being weak and isolated and besieged, anything to alert them to the fact that it is they, not "the Scaifes, Exxons, Coors, and Kochs of the world" who actually run the country and therefore ought to be covered in a diligent, scrupulous, and adversarial fashion. One thing is for sure: It won't be the mainstream media that holds the progressive movement to account.

Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom, like me, found the Continetti article extremely important. Jeff's forte is language as a tool to stifle debate and control thinking, and he viewed the article largely from that angle.

It is post-modernist philosophy put into physical usage: we have witnessed, if we cared to take notice, the studied and inexorable deconstruction of our Constitution, such that we now have laws deemed Constitutional by the Court that claim that of course a country formed on a Declaration of Independence from a tyrannical centralized authority can be compelled by that centralized authority to enter into private contracts -- and that businesses be compelled to offer those contracts -- the specifics of which are set by the central government. We have a Court that deemed it Constitutional that of course the government can take private land and give it to a shopping mall developer if the promise of increased revenue for that government comes to be considered and act in the public interest. And soon, we'll be told that "shall not be infringed" is naturally open to infringements of all kinds, because shut up and think of the children.

"Equality" today means equality of outcome, or egalitarianism and homogeneity. "Tolerance" today means how dare you give offense -- and your "hate speech" must be controlled. "Fair share" today means an immensely disproportionate amount is paid by those scapegoated by the left and given over to the left's cronies, with some crumbs going to the poor, who become more and more entrenched in their dependence on the state, and more and more permanent clients to the state's war on the free market.

To anyone who has studied language -- and done so in a way where they didn't feel compelled to follow the academic party line and pretend the sophistry of the post-structural movement, which has reached its zenith (or from the perspective of Enlightenment classical liberalism, its nadir) in anti-foundationalism -- the physical, policy manifestations of such a corruption of our epistemology, informed by the premises we accept for the language that must necessarily describe and construct that epistemology, was an inevitability. As certain linguistic kernel assumptions were adopted, entrenched, and finally institutionalized -- by all political stripes ("Yay, it's the 'democratization of language and meaning!' We're all for democracy! Go us!" -- the effects of that adoption, played out in the world of language where language has performative functions (and no where is this more so than in law and legislative policy), were preordained: collectivism, consensus, mob rule, all dressed up in the finery of studied, rigorous legal interpretation that, once certain conditions for "interpreting" were legitimated, were inevitable. And that's precisely because the kernel assumptions were all cleverly laid by collectivists to deconstruct and or subsume the notion of individualism on every level.

This is a coup. And we've relied on cowards, charlatans, or know-nothings on "our" side to help push back against it.

While I agree with Jeff on the attempted coup and the failure of conservatives and the Republican party to effectively communicate what is going on and fight back against it, there are ways to counter this sort of thing but it takes time and the kind of effort I am not seeing.

In an article describing how the National Rifle Association became a political force to reckon with, the Washington Post 's Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham and Sari Horowitz show us how it was done.

1. Be firm in advancing your convictions and welcome controversy. "They are absolutist in their interpretation of the Second Amendment. The NRA learned that controversy isn't a problem but rather, in many cases, a solution, a motivator, a recruitment tool, an inspiration."

2. Don't try to be all things to all people. "The group has learned the virtues of being a single-issue organization with a very simple take on that issue. The NRA keeps close track of friends and enemies, takes names and makes lists. In the halls of power, it works quietly behind the scenes. It uses fear when necessary to motivate supporters. The ultimate goal of gun-control advocates, the NRA claims, is confiscation and then total disarmament, leading to government tyranny."

3. When the old order needs changing, change it:

In the second half of the 1970s, the NRA faced a crossroads. Would it remain an Establishment institution, partnering with such mainstream entities as the Ford Foundation and focusing on shooting competitions? Or would it roll up its sleeves and fight hammer and tongs against the gun-control advocates? [Snip]"Because of the political direction the NRA was taking, they weren't being invited to parties and their wives were not happy," says Jeff Knox, Neal's son and director of the Firearms Coalition, which fights for the Second Amendment and against laws restricting guns or ammunition. "Dad was on the phone constantly with various people around the country. He had his copy of the NRA bylaws and Robert's Rules, highlighted and marked. My father and a lot of local club leaders and state association guys organized their troops."

Theirs was a grass-roots movement within the NRA. The solution was to use the membership to make changes. The bylaws of the NRA gave members power on the convention floor to vote for changes in the NRA governing structure.

"We were fighting the federal government on one hand and internal NRA on the other hand," Aquilino says.

In Cincinnati, Knox read the group's demands, 15 of them, including one that would give the members of the NRA the right to pick the executive vice president, rather than letting the NRA's board decide. The coup took hours to accomplish. Joe Tartaro, a rebel, remembers the evening as "electric." The hall's vending machine ran out of sodas.

By 3:30 in the morning the NRA had a whole new look. Gone were the Old Guard officers, including Maxwell Rich, the ousted executive vice president.

3. Clean House when you need to,

Don't ignore your membership and their concerns and change leaders who go wobbly, but don't go off and become some fringe organization.

4. Choose spokesmen who effectively communicate your position in words that strike a responsive chord in listeners:

By 2000, the NRA had become even more closely aligned with the Republican Party and worked strenuously to keep Al Gore from becoming president. At the annual meeting in May of that year, Hollywood legend Heston provided what might be the signature moment in the history of the NRA. He spoke of a looming loss of liberty, of Concord and Lexington, of Pearl Harbor, the "sacred stuff" that "resides in that wooden stock and blued steel."

Handed a replica of a Colonial musket, he said: "As we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed -- and especially for you, Mr. Gore."

He held the gun aloft.

"From my cold, dead hands!"

Of course, the NRA has been fortunate in its enemies. The Democratic party has done a lot to make it the heavily financed, powerful organization it has become:

"The D's keep coming back to this. This is so visceral to them," Norquist says. "Again, it's an expression of contempt for Middle America. They don't like you and yours and don't think you should be in charge of the capacity to take care of yourself. They know they can't do this for you, but they've hired these nice people to draw chalk outlines of your kids, and that's supposed to make you feel better.

5. Don't be afraid to just say no to people who want you to compromise your principles for their political advantage.

It'll be the death of you.

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