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Hey, Funders. Opportunity’s Knocking


Last night, I found myself in a private dining room at an upscale San Francisco eatery with four Democratic funding luminaries: a Bay Area venture capitalist, a honcho from an online auction site that shall remain nameless, a member of the Democracy Alliance and a Bay Area developer. I was, by the way, looking very forward to this dinner. Even bought my first pair of Jimmy Choos for the occasion–making me a mere 6’1".

I’d just finished reading about Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s new book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, in the Washington Post and my mood was buoyed by a mainstream paper rightfully taking BushCo to task for its rampant cronyism in the war profiteering "reconstruction" efforts in Iraq. I sang along to my James Blunt CD as I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking karma smiled upon me and I found a space just steps from the restaurant. I had some bounce in my step as I approached the hostess. She, too, loved the Choos.

Call me Polly Anna, but I was feeling hopeful. If one could look past Bush’s win on the torture front yesterday, and consider the president’s current numbers in the polls and the effect they just might have on the midterm elections…well, then…there was room for a little optimism about the proposition that someday soon, right-wing fanatics might not control both the executive and legislative branches of our government, and we may someday be able to reverse Bush’s immoral and dangerous policies on torture–and rejoin the civilized world. Oh, and I was itching to share with these funders some of my thoughts on how exciting it was to see the blogs, progressive policy and membership groups, independent media, DC establishment Dems and the Clinton Faction all come together and lead the charge to keep ABC/Disney’s "Path to 9/11" from offering up a Republican airbrushing of history as "the official, true story" of our national tragedy. That was our infrastructure at work. Heck, we’d managed to get the corporate media and even some high-profile conservatives to take the network to task. There was much more about the blogs I wanted to share, too–the excitement about ideas and activism, the communication, the amplification of new voices and new messages. And in a San Francisco crowd, I was expecting to see some of my excitement reflected back at me.

Ummm…not. These funders sucked the life blood and optimism out of me in under half an hour. And left me plenty depressed today, I might add. But, now I’m just pissed.

Once again, I find myself in the awkward spot of not really being able to name names, because I was there as an invited guest, and I mostly don’t want to hurt my hosts’ chances of ever being funded again. But so much of what I see on the left can be so damned ridiculous that I believe it’s my duty to expose and try to change it. If we can’t talk about these things, admit they’re counter-productive, fix the mindset and move on, we’ll always be stuck in our losing ways. So, here goes.

The host of the dinner, Simon Rosenberg, of NDN and the New Politics Institute (of which I’m a fellow) first ran through a rousing litany of activities our group has been up to over the last year, highlighted some of what he finds hopeful as we head into the midterms, and then he mentioned the tremendous response he was getting to a memo that NPI released this week about the strategy of buying more cable for ads and reducing the amount of dollars wasted in scattershot fashion in buying only broadcast time for political ads. Some of the entrenched Dem consultants in DC were mightily upset about this advice from NPI, as they get 15% off the top of those huge broadcast buys, and make far less off cable buys. But, cable impressions are more targeted and get more bang for each buck. This by the way, is only news to Democratic candidates, as Republicans and most advertising execs will tell you that cable is where it’s at in TV these days. You can read the report here. Markos, who is also an NPI fellow, weighed in as well.

Now let me first say this. The developer guy was enthusiastic, about everything. Expecially about windsurfing. So, no complaints there. But you should have seen the sour pusses on the other three. Sour, unimpressed and each ready to launch into their tired list of concerns and complaints as only the Monied Left can do. Never mind that NPI was doing something, urging consultants and media buyers to add something new and different to their bag of tricks–attempting to reduce waste and misdirected messaging. Democracy Alliance Gal turned up her nose and came back with, "Yes, but what effect are those cable impressions having?" What I wanted to say was, "Well, sugar, we don’t know yet, because we’re just about to start trying out this strategy…but what we been doin’ ain’t been so hot, and the Republicans kick our asses on targeted messaging." The other two funders, following her lead, muzzled any enthusiasm they might have felt bubbling up to the surface about this new strategy idea. Strike One.

For your sake, dear readers, I’m only picking the four things that bugged me most about this dinner. What was Strike Two, you ask? Well it was when Online Auction Guy coolly lambasted Simon for (I believe he said) bending over backwards to support the blogosphere, "…when you know that the blogs are leading us down the path of unelectability." He blasted the blogs for getting Ned elected in the primary. This pompous statement was also incredibly hypocritical because Online Auction Guy had also just held forth on his company’s amazing efforts to promote net neutrality to their users. I asked him, "What about the blogs’ tremendous work to fight for net neutrality?" And on this point he casually threw a scrap of compliment the blogs’ way, while clearly thinking Online Auction Company was the true leader of the Save the Internet Coalition.

Venture Capital Man, who hadn’t read the Buy Cable memo, and probably wasn’t aware of many of the other memos NPI has released this year trying to lay out the technological and political opportunities that progressives and Democrats need to capitalize on in order to make some important strides, advised that Simon’s group should write a strategy memo, akin to the infamous Powell Memo that launched this Golden Age of Wingnutdom. Taken together, the strategy memos that NPI has offered up begin to look a lot like their Dem 2.0 version of the 1971 Powell Memo, but Venture Capital Man just hadn’t connected the dots. Strike Three.

Before Simon and others could explain this, however, Democracy Alliance Gal piped in with that old standard, about how Democrats and progressives just don’t stand for anything. "I just don’t know what they stand for." She’s in charge of handing out money, but isn’t curious enough, or smart enough to know what Democrats and progressives stand for? The common good, social justice, equality, security AND civil liberties, generally believing in, well, our Constitutional rights and protections, etc., honey. She doesn’t know what we stand for? Please. I AM SO TIRED of hearing self-hating Democrats/progressives complaining that we have no ideas and that we stand for nothing. Sadly, it’s usually the people that hold the purse strings who don’t know what we stand for, and they would rather hold on, white-knuckled, to the money and complain rather than reward those that are doing something. They’re rich. What have they got to lose, really? Strike Four.

So, my lost optimism today has me hopping mad. Hey, Funders! Look around. It’s a new world since 1992, and Bill Clinton can’t save you Centrist Democrats who’ve capitulated over and over and moved so far to the right that you’re where conservative Republicans use to be. We are not "crazy 60s types" who don’t care about winning elections. And we are not the radical fringe. What we are is the growing voice of a Democratic party that actually stands for Democratic principles and a progressive agenda. The blog audiences are growing, and we’re starting to get heard on the national stage. We’re getting things done, and talking to others, getting them involved, active, signing up new voters, raising money. We’re publishing books and getting them onto the bestseller lists. We want to work with you to get more done, to get more Democrats and progressives elected.

There’s plenty being done. Plenty of folks who do know what progressives and Democrats stand for. Plenty of successful efforts. How about noticing, and letting some money flow? In case you haven’t read it, here’s how the conservative philanthropists do it.

Consider this your memo.

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