The Power Of Selfish
(Just ignore the redemptive ending, and it’s perfect…)
Consortiumnews recently republished this Bob Parry piece from 2005, which reviews the history of how the right ended up with a powerful messaging machine which “can… make small mistakes by their opponents big and big mistakes by their allies small,” while the left… didn’t:
In the mid-1970s, after the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and President Richard Nixon’s resignation over the Watergate scandal, American progressives held the upper-hand on media. Not only had the mainstream press exposed Nixon’s dirty tricks and published the Pentagon Papers secrets of the Vietnam War, but a vibrant leftist “underground” press informed and inspired a new generation of citizens.
At this key juncture, leaders of the Right and the Left made fateful choices that have shaped today’s political world. Though both sides had access to similar amounts of money from wealthy individuals and like-minded foundations, the two sides chose to invest that money in very different ways.
The Right concentrated on gaining control of the information flows in Washington and on building a media infrastructure that would put out a consistent conservative message across the country. As part of this strategy, the Right also funded attack groups to target mainstream journalists who got in the way of the conservative agenda.
The Left largely forsook media in favor of “grassroots organizing.” As many of the Left’s flagship media outlets foundered, the “progressive community” reorganized under the slogan – “think globally, act locally” – and increasingly put its available money into well-intentioned projects, such as buying endangered wetlands or feeding the poor.
Parry describes this as a strategic error, which I suppose it was, but I don’t see it as an inexcusable, “what were they thinking?” blunder. Both movements were simply being true to their natures. The progressives wanted to do good works and empower ordinary citizens to participate in the democratic process, while the conservatives could care less about such things, and focused on accumulating power.
Obviously, that progressive strategy didn’t work out so well, but it was perfectly understandable. Just try to imagine progressives saying, “Sorry, we can’t help save the wetlands or feed the poor; we have to build a media messaging machine. Trust us, this will totally pay off in 10-20 years.” But in helping others, we forgot to help ourselves. Conservatives helped no-one but themselves, and they’ve been reaping the media benefits since 1980. Yes, I know they’re about as popular as bubonic plague right now, but think where they’d be without a friendly media.
The obvious question is, how do we set a balance between helping others and helping ourselves? Do we have enough money and energy to build up a progressive media infrastructure and keep fighting all the outrages the Republicans throw at us on a daily basis? Can we do both? I guess we’ll have to.
(h/t Make Them Accountable)