November 30, 2006, 12:00 - 2:00 PM - Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Headquarters
Transcript Now Available - Click Here! (PDF format, 27 pages, 335 KB)
A complete, edited transcript is now available of our November 30 panel discussion, entitled
November 30, 2006 • 12:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Panel and Program
Registration, lunch buffet
Welcome by Hudson Institute's WILLIAM SCHAMBRA
BYRON YORK, National Review
ROB STEIN, founder of Democracy Alliance
GARA LAMARCHE, Open Society Institute
"We ARE building a vast Vast Left Wing Conspiracy to rival the $300 million conservatives spent on theirs last year. But we are a seedling at this point. Not very 'vast' in other words." So wrote prominent progressive blogger Markos Moulitsas in 2005, shortly before the publication of National Review columnist Byron York's book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of the Democrats' Desperate Fight to Reclaim Power (for copyright and ordering information, click here). In the book, York reported on a new and lavishly funded progressive network of think tanks and nonprofits. And for all of Moulitsas' modesty in 2005, in the election of 2006 (held just a few weeks before this panel discussion), the Democrats regained much of what they had lost in previous elections.
How important to the victory was the network of progressive think tanks, nonprofits, and political issue committees that York described in York's book? Has it grown from seedling to Jack-and-the-beanstalk vine, destined to carry progressivism to the White House in 2008? Is it time for conservatives to reexamine their own intellectual infrastructure in light of the progressive network's success? To discuss these and other questions, Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal brought together author Byron York as well as Democracy Alliance founder Rob Stein and Gara LaMarche of Soros' Open Society Institute. The Bradley Center's William Schambra moderated the discussion.
In York's opening presentation, he outlined the coordinated effort among Democrats to build a political movement in the run up to the 2004 election, the subject of his book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy. He also spent a bit of time outlining reasons why the Democrats' showing in that election wasn't as good as they might have wished. About the 2006 election, York commented, "It think it's fair to say that the vast left wing conspiracy played a less high-profile role in 2006 than in 2004, and I think the reason is that they're a bunch of smart people, and they are retooling." Looking ahead, York noted, "I think the biggest question now about this whole infrastructure that is being created is how much everyone is in it for the long term…. Whether it can continue to grow in the future as it has in the last couple of years (read: outlive being purely an opposition movement), I think that's the question we're all waiting to see answered."
Rob Stein used his opening remarks to "say a few words about what we have learned over the last couple of years through our research about both the conservative right and the center left," as well as to describe the Democracy Alliance. "Our mission is straightforward: To invest in a robust institutional infrastructure capable of building a sustainable center-left movement."
Gara LaMarche described the movement from a funder's perspective – in particular, from George Soros' perspective and similar funders. "They're for clean elections and getting money out of politics…. Soros… favors different campaign finance laws but is working with the ones that exist. That's certainly a tenable position." LaMarche went on to note, "[T]he boogey-man figure that Soros has become for many on the Right …. doesn't really capture who Soros is or who he thinks he is…. He's not that interested in politics. He doesn't see himself as a partisan figure." About the Democrats and the movement itself, LaMarche is optimistic. "When you're so close to the possibility of power, and in fact now you have restored – the Democrats, anyway – electoral power, you usually don't think very audaciously, and you really don't think for the long term because you're very concerned about the next cycle…. [But] there is a lot of infrastructure building going on now …. aimed at a longer haul; it is aimed at relationship building and so on. And it's happening through community-based organizations and it's happening through labor unions…. That is the way you build a political movement for the long haul."
Bill Schambra began the question-and-answer period by asking whether the "instant creation" of a progressive infrastructure will lead to stronger or weaker institutions – i.e. orchestration of a movement versus the evolution of one. Schambra also asked about the Democrats' vision and the Founders. Questions from the audience came from Curtis Gans of American University; Steve Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute; David Boaz of Cato Institute; Matthew Vadum of the Capital Research Center; and Hudson Institute's own Amy Kass.
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