A network of foundations, publications, columnists, radio talk show hosts, religious organizations, professional fund-raisers, and think tanks accomplished the work of selling conservatism. Over three decades, Conservatives spent millions creating a national medial infrastructure that effectively got out their message and was able to set the agenda for national policy discussions. An impetus for creating the new foundations and think tanks was concern tumult of the 1960s had politically activated some previously passive sectors of American society, the elderly, minorities, youth, and women. Eminent social scientist Samuel Huntington yearned for an earlier time when “Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers.” The Trilateral Commission’s study of the new activism dubbed it a “crisis of democracy.” Fearing what could happen when the public sought to enter the public arena, conservative elements created think tanks and foundations and greatly increased the number of lobbyists in Washington to assure control of legislation. Some scholars think these efforts have been so successful that by the early Twenty-First Century, democracy had been reduce to an empty form as the citizen participatory process lost real significance and the public had less of a role in determining social and economic development strategies. Noam Chomsky suggested that the United States was experiencing a “’serious democracy deficit,’” that made it very difficult to invest democratic institutions with real substance.
The conservative media infrastructure had the enormous advantage of appealing to the postmodern distrust of elites and experts. As Michael Wolfe noted, FOX and the conservative media are “about having a chip on your shoulder; it’s about us versus them, insiders versus outsiders, phonies versus neophonies, and, in a clever piece of postmodernism, established media against insurgent media.” On the other hand, Democrats and liberals spent almost nothing trying to create a media infrastructure and showed very little skill in getting out their message. The effective and ceaseless efforts of the FOX television network did not transform the majority of voters into conservative ideologues, but it did greatly enlarge the number of conservative ideologues and the Republican base. Of equal importance it made the border between the right and middle extremely porous. Exposed to constant information blaming liberals for almost every conceivable evil, people in the middle developed an inclination to drift to the right whenever they were very frustrated. The ability to exploit this “porous border between the right and the middle” was demonstrated in the California recall election of 2003. Largely unaware of this dynamic, Governor Gray Davis and his backers failed to understand the enormous political force that had been unleashed against them.
By 1963, a skeletal right-wing information network was in place. The newspaper Human Events reached 80,000 homes, and its organization’s radio program was on the air 343 times a day on 300 stations. In addition there were 70 foundations that together with 113 corporations and firms, 25 utilities, and 250 wealthy individuals were able to elect 74% of their 150 Congressional candidates. President Richard Nixon told intimates that the conservatives needed to create their own media operations to counter the work of the so-called liberal media establishment. While there is no evidence that Nixon made any progress in that direction, his Secretary of the Treasury, multimillionaire William Simon, took steps in this direction in 1978, when he was president of the John M. Olin foundation. Together with heads of other conservative foundations, he played the leading role in constructing the New Right’s think tank, media, and propaganda apparatus. Simon blamed the fall of Richard Nixon on a biased press and vowed to create a “counterintelligensia” to create a conventional wisdom more favorable to Republicans and conservatives. He used some of his ample funds but mainly found others, including foundations, to fund these conservative efforts.
Another impetus toward creating a vast Republican message machine occurred in August 1971 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce circulated Confidential Memorandum: Attack on the American Free enterprise System by future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell .in which he called for long term, coordinated efforts to ensure the survival of free enterprise. Simon, Powell, and the other men who contributed the money to create this network of foundations and information outlets, saw themselves as the saviors of the nation, struggling to defend free enterprise and the American way of life. The network of think tanks they created and the long term plans for developing a Republican majority were to prove to be eminently workable and successful. In 2006, Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist, noted, “The Republicans are like the Chinese--they think in terms of like a 50 year plan....Their goal is permanent realignment...against a party that is hardly strategizing at all.” It is difficult to determine how much has been spent on funding this network of foundations and think tanks. From 1992 to 1994, the twelve most important foundations spent at least $210,000,000 pumping out information.
When Ronald Reagan took power, enough of this publicity machine was in place to enable the new administration to conduct a “public diplomacy” campaign by using news people that were tied to its media network. The conservatives’ media machine proved very effective in protecting the Reagan administration from criticism. This was especially true in respect to the Iran-Contra scandal and the administration’s support of reactionary military forces in Central America. Conservatives are convinced that the press was biased against Ronald Reagan, but James Baker said “ There were days and times and events we might have had some complaints [but] on balance I don’t think we had anything to complain about.” It is possible that there is some media bias in cultural matters, particularly against the pro-life movement, but it goes no further than that. Frequently conservative assertions were simply accepted as facts and knowledge, and many of these views went unchallenged in the electronic media, where concentrated wealth and the cries of “media bias” had the greatest impact.
When conservative think tanks are mentioned, huge and influential operations like the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute come to mind. However, there are smaller but also influential conservative tanks that turn out information on scientific topics. Two of the most important are the George C. Marshall Institute and the Discovery Institute. The latter is best known for its efforts on behalf of creationism, or Intelligent Design, as it is now known. Another is the American Council on Science and Health, whose head, Dr. Gilbert Ross, still insists that the verdict is out on whether secondary smoke is damaging to health. He had spent time in prison for Medicaid fraud. This network of think tanks has succeeded in politicizing science and has chalked up remarkable results by 2005. Their work perfectly illustrates the marriage of right-wing religion and corporate America as they defend abstinence education, claim condoms do not work, insist that abortions produce breast cancer and mental illness, and fight Darwinism and stem cell research and produce findings intended to emasculate environmental and regulatory law.
They have mightily battled the concept of global warming and have demanded that government rely upon research carried out by private industry. Based on their findings, the Bush II FDA refused to sanction the “morning after” contraceptive pill. George W. Bush’s White House also followed their advice in 2003 by editing an EPA study to eliminate references to a National Academy of Science report on climate change. In 2000, Republicans forced Clinton to accept the Data Quality Act, which makes it possible for private interests to endlessly challenge all new government science, which could lead to new environmental, safety, or other regulations. The principle of the act was extended in 2002 when the Office of Management and Budget was given the mandate to enforce “peer review” of all government science, meaning OMB would encourage challenges and decide the results. The work of these politically motivated research centers are held in contempt by mainstream science because their work has not been subjected to peer review. The conservative scientists respond that mainstream science is “junk science” which is unsound and not pure.
The oldest Republican think tank was the Hoover Institution, which existed long before the other elements of the message machine created after the early seventies. . Among the newer and more militantly conservative one’s are the Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, National Center for Policy Analysis, and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. The National Center for Policy Analysis is located in Dallas and is so dependent upon contributions from highly partisan fat cats that it permits no criticism of George W. Bush by its employees. When Bruce Bartlett hinted that Bush was not a true conservative, he was forbidden to make similar comments in the future and was fired when he wrote a book that critiqued some Bush economic policies. He was told that his comments were objectionable because they reduced contributions, not because he was wrong.
The Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress was financed by Joseph Coors and was closely tied to Heritage. Some, like the Center for Strategic and International Studies, devoted their attention to supporting a strong national defense and promoting a conservative foreign policy agenda. In addition there were conservative operations like the Rutherford Institute and Landmark Legal Foundation, which used legal tactics learned from the ACLU and NAACP to derail liberal legislation and hound Bill Clinton. Founded in 1943 and reorganized in 1954, the American Enterprise Institute is the oldest of the major conservative think tanks and came to be dominated by Neo Conservatives. Among its stars were to be Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Robert Bork, Charles Murray, and Irving Kristol. In 1980, it reported assets of $35.8 million and took in $24.5 million. The Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973, is the most important of them and is funded by wealthy conservatives who include the Coors family, the DeVoses and Van Andels of Amway and Richard Mellon Scaife. Coors, allied with political operatives Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich were active within the American Conservative Union and attempted to dominate it.
The conservative institutes and foundations that deal with foreign policy are too numerous to mention. Frequently they work with the US Central Command in various black operations. The International Republican Institute (IRI), led by Senator John McCain seems to specialize in helping right-wing regimes in Latin America. Working with the National Endowment for Democracy, the most important of these operations, it spread around money to bring down the Aristide regime in Haiti in 2004.
In 1971 Coors sent aide Jack Wilson to Washington to find an organization he could take over. Over two years, he gave $200,000 to Analysis Research Corporation and then started donating to the Robert M. Schuchman Foundation. The idea was to find a tax-exempt organization, and the ARC was having problems with the IRS. By 1974 the Schuchman Foundation was becoming dormant. With the help of Paul Weyrich, Coors founded the Heritage Foundation in 1973. This foundation played a major role in shaping the policies of the Reagan and George W. Bush Administrations. After 9/11 it had enough clout to kill legislation aimed at tracing the international movement of money, specifically the movement of terrorist funds. Heritage had no truck with them, but it did want to protect those who moved money to avoid U.S. taxes. Weyrich also founded the American Legislative Exchange Council, which counts hundreds of corporate sponsors and which has become the very effective corporate Trojan horse at the state level, seeing that economic legislation serves corporate interests.
Vast amounts of money were invested in building an efficient and effective Republican communications machine. Wealthy individuals such as Joseph Coors Richard Mellon Scaife, and Chicago financier Peter W. Smith, and many others. . The Neo Conservatives were to become analysts for conservative think tanks, cranking out material on foreign policy, economics, and studies that described how the liberals allegedly destroyed traditional American culture. In no time, they appeared to have forgotten that their former friends in the academy and among liberal intellectuals had often been the strongest critics of consumerism, hedonism, and materialistic values. Their new job was to manufacture materials blaming these and other problems on liberals, and they did it well. Although they fit the profile, NeoCons quickly became proficient in cranking out polemics against the New Class. The new conservative think tanks were established in order to create a “counter-establishment.” Over time they have succeeded in doing this, but they are not places where independent scholars can do their best to serve their country, regardless of party politics
Their work, and that of others in the conservative think tanks enabled Conservatives to present their ideas in a manner that made them appear new and attractive to voters. The triumph of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was partly attributable to their hard work on the ideological front. Very few voters have highly developed ideological perspectives, but there has been an increasing tendency for voters to locate themselves somewhere along the liberal/conservative spectrum.
A fourth generation heir to the Mellon fortune, Richard Scaife’s investments in building the New Right have been so great that some attribute the recent surge of political power to him. Scaife is not the typical conservative Republican; he is pro-life, opposes NAFTA and is not interested in the Christian Right, except as a very useful ally. He spent tens of millions building a network of think tanks, placing conservative academicians in university chairs, and subsidizing right-wing publications. He operated four foundations and spent at least $200 million between 1974 and 1992 while building up the conservative information infrastructure. He pursued the “Golden Rule,” which meant “whoever has the gold rules” and bought into the American Legislative Exchange Council in order to use its tax exempt status for pro-Reagan activities. Founded by Paul Weyrich, the ALEC provided state legislators with model draft legislation and took them to posh resorts for political indoctrination. It also groomed state legislators like Henry Hyde, Tommy Thompson, and John Engler for higher stations. By the eighties, it placing less emphasis upon cultural questions and emphasizing the economic questions that would attract big corporate donors.
Scaife also helped finance the Heritage Foundation, which produced a persuasive documentary called “Time to Repeal the Federal Death Taxes: The Nightmare of the American Dream,” a misleading documentary that left the impression that large numbers of Americans stood in danger of not being able to pass on their family farms or small businesses to their children. In fact, only 2% of estates were taxed in 1999.
The Heritage Foundation developed a program called Mandate for Leadership, which was almost a blueprint for the Reagan administration, which implemented about two-thirds of the document’s 2,000 recommendations. Heritage consistently pressed for tax cuts for industry and the wealthy and defense spending and a new missile defense. The Cato Institute was founded in 1977 in San Francisco and soon moved to Washington in 1982. Cato has a libertarian bias and sometimes complains about excessive corporate welfare. It emphasizes giving more force to the Tenth Amendment as a way of returning power to the states and dismantling the New Deal and the Great Society. In 2002, Cato had a budget of $16 million and Heritage had $28 million. Cato, with its libertarian in outlook, neither New Right nor Neo Conservative, but an important part of the conservative informational and communications infrastructure.: A late 2001 the libertarians at the Cato Institute were still working to convince the public that global warming was a hoax and nothing to be . On the West coast, the Milken Institute performs similar work on behalf of libertarian causes; however, it does not consistently support cultural conservatism.
The conservative foundations do not speak with one voice; they have different orientations. Nevertheless, they do not work at cross-purposes and almost invariably find ways to work together toward common goals. These conservative think tanks are very efficient in putting out position papers and making suggestions to Republican lawmakers on legislation before it ever reaches the committees for discussion and mark-ups. They also provide conservative columnists and talk show hosts with a great deal of grist for their opinion-shaping programs. They subsidized conservative television programs like William Buckley’s “Firing Line.” These partisan think tanks developed policy for the GOP, and their personnel were to occupy positions of power in Republican administrations. Evidence of their close ties to power is found in the efforts of officials of the George W. Bush administration to shield the Heritage Foundation from criticism. When Al Ross of the Institute for Democracy was scheduled to address an association for corporate anti-discrimination officers, the administration forced the association to withdraw the offer. It was expected that Ross would criticize the Heritage Foundation for working to weaken civil rights legislation. The association needed Labor Department support to get some grants, and pressure from people in that department and the Office of Management and Budget was enough to remove Ross from their program. By 1998, there were thirty-seven interlocked think tanks, whose budgets exceeded those of other think tanks by a factor of four.
Conservative foundations supported a shelf-full of magazines that employed a large stable of effective and often compelling conservative political writers, many of whom offered newspaper columns, appeared on television, and/or hosted talk radio programs. A study of US interpretive communities found one at the far right that obtained most of its news and information from the radio. It was comprised predominantly of white, Protestant males, who were “pro-individualism, pro-hierarchism, anti-egalitarian worldviews” anti-environmental, and, of course very Republican and conservative.” Talk radio helped create this interpretive community and is effective in enlarging it. Talk radio became particularly influential in the 1990s and set the tone for many cable commentary programs and even a number of print commentators. In 2000, 37% of the public listened to talk radio regularly or with some frequency, and only 12% of the listeners claimed to be Democrats. In 2007, the Center for American Progress and Free Press found that 91% of talk radio programs broadcasted on the five largest chains was conservative.
Fundraisers and Fundraising
. In 1992-1994, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found that the 12 most important conservative foundations had spent $210,000,000. Conservative magazines, such as The American Spectator, The New Criterion, and Irving Kristol’s National Interest/Public Interest’ were important recipients. David Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture received $3.2 million. Horowitz is a sharp and bitter critic of the Left and produces several publications. When Nancy Pelosi was elected minority leader of the House, he surnamed her “the Hammer and Sickle” and claimed that her opposition to China’s human rights record was a mere “fig leaf against accusations of being closer to red than red-white-and-blue.” The Center for Media and Public Affairs and Accuracy in Media were also given generous funding. Accuracy in Media, which monitors the media from a right-wing perspective, nurtured the growth of AM radio broadcasts such as those of Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, and Oliver North. These right-wing talk show hosts were experts at clever but often dishonest spin and commentary and daily manufactured the rage that fortified millions of foot soldiers in the Republican base. Money was also provided to air on public television programs featuring the conservative views of Ben Wattenburg and William F. Buckley. Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Research and Education Foundation received money to found a conservative television network.
The efforts of the Republican information network were augmented by the highly effective work of New Right fund-raises who also played an important role in recruiting people to the New Right cause. Paul Weyrich, a deacon in the Melikite Church, played a major role in helping hundreds of thousands of working class Democrats feel comfortable voting Republican and adopting New Right views. Weyrich came from a Catholic blue-collar working background and understood that these people distrust country club Republicans and big business. To win them over, it was necessary to show them that the Democrats favored abortion and threatened their religious and cultural values. Gun control and abortion became early symbols of the Democratic assault on traditional values. Weyrich also opposed the civil rights movement and the heritage of the New Deal. He saw that blue-collar people “felt invaded by societal forces--liberal forces, future shock” and played on their fear and resentment until they began to vote Republican and even change parties. John McCain, an individualistic Arizona Republican, disapproved of the scorched earth tactics of the Far Right and called Weyrich “a pompous, self-serving son of a bitch.”
Weyrich was plugged into many conservative movements. He spent some time with George Wallace’s American Independent Party, and would found the Free Congress Foundation as a vehicle to mobilize resentment against people he accused of threatening “basic values.” With the help of Joseph Coors, he founded the Committee for a Free Congress in 1974, which worked to nominate and elect New Right Republicans. In time, it developed an extraordinary precinct organization and came to be a power in Republican politics. The National Conservative Action Committee, led by former Jesse Helms aide Charles Black, raised considerable amounts of money to replace moderate Republicans with New Right conservatives and battle “radicals” like Henry Jackson, Pat Moynihan, and Edmund Muskie. They did not knock off the latter three, but they were very effective nevertheless. Black was especially good at sending shrewd political and press operatives to help New Right Republicans.
Richard Viguerie was one of the most successful Republican fund-raisers and played a major role in developing means for vastly expanding the party’s contributor base to the point where it has far more ordinary people as donors than the Democrats. Operating out of Falls Church, Virginia, he excelled at building massive mailing lists. He was a committed Roman Catholic family man who sent his children to a fundamentalist school. Though he has been criticized for high administrative costs, he pointed out that he spent a great deal on voter education. In 1968, he was George Wallace’s fund-raiser. He was to assume responsibility for Wallace’s political debts in return for the candidate’s mailing list. Nine years later, his RAVCO raised $25,000,000 for conservative candidates. That was $ 5 million more than the Republican House and Senate campaign committees raised. Viguerie also founded the influential Conservative Digest.
Grover Norquist, leader of the Americans for Tax Reform is in a league by himself as major player in formulating Republican strategy and moving that party to the right. He calls bipartisanship “date rape” and openly works to give America permanent one party government. Much of the success of Republican efforts to thwart Clinton was the result of careful organization and smart politics, and the careful work of Norquist. The destruction of “Clintoncare” paved the way for Republican conquest of the House of Representatives in the elections of 1994. Norquist, a Lee Atwater protégé, and the Wednesday Club saw Clinton’s health care program as a deadly threat to their plans. After Clinton was elected, about 30 leaders of right-wing organizations met every Wednesday in the headquarters of Americans for Tax Reform The Wednesday Club coordinated attacks on the plan and successfully prevented Republicans from offering or supporting alternatives. The destruction of “Hillarycare” was the first of many exceedingly successful operations undertaken by a highly efficient network of conservative news and political information outlets. Democrats, who are divided into many factions and have a tradition of diversity, have no information mechanism worthy of the name.
These weekly meetings of conservative political activists were to continue into the second Bush administration. By 2005, the weekly strategy meeting has as many as 120 participants. A researcher represents right-wing columnist Bob Novak, and columnist Peggy Noonan may make a personal appearance. In addition to lobbyists, right-wing organs The National Review and Washington Times are represented After the meeting, the word goes out via fax, e-mails, and other means to pundits, propagandists, and others in the conservative information machine as to what issues are to be stressed and how they are to be handled in print and on the radio and television. Norquist argued that government should be reduced to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub; and the aspects of government operations he most had in mind were those that provided benefits and services to citizens.
Robert Novak has written that Norquist thinks “God put Republicans on earth to cut taxes.” Norquist thought Democrats kept seats in Congress because so many voters depended upon government largesse. Government spending tied bureaucrats and recipients of government largess to the Democratic Party. He argued that cutting taxes would defund the Democratic Party and cause it to lose power. Gaining power, he knew, depended upon efforts to market Republican ideas to the public. He had read Antonio Gramsci and took to heart the Italian Communist’s argument that a political movement cannot succeed until it has captured the culture. Writing in an Italian prison, Gramsci recognized that elites enjoy hegemony when they control culture through domination of important institutions and the press. He sought to counter this hegemony by developing other means of influencing opinion. Norquist and others have developed mechanisms to capitalize on the assets they already had. The development of talk radio and political cable shows as well as the rapid emergence of political religion may reinforce conservative hegemony and, in some ways, head off the alternative means of communicating that Gramsci described.
Founded in 1999, Stephen Moore’s Club for Growth (CfG) has an agenda similar to that of Norquist’s ATF. Its emphasis is tax cuts and supply side economics. In 2002, it became the largest funder of Republican campaigns, other than the party itself, contributing $10 million to conservative candidates. In 2004, CfG spent $2.3 million on Pat Toomey’s unsuccessful bid to unseat the moderate Arlen Specter. But the money was a good investment because it forced the remaining moderates in the GOP to consider very carefully how far they are willing to stray from the party line. After the election, Toomey replaced Moore as head of CfG.
Sherman has written African American Baseball: A brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!