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Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Think Tanks on Campus
Some people equate college with liberalism as if they were mutually inclusive. Higher education is considered a bastion of liberalism -- People's Republics within Ivory Towers -- preaching progressive dogma to unchallenging students, who in turn, join a vast left-wing conspiracy to ruin traditional values, and pass out birth control pills to high school students.
Or something like that.
But this characterization is no longer accurate. For several decades conservative organizations such as The Heritage Foundation and The Leadership Institute have been investing in think tanks and student outreach groups, funding conservative papers, and grooming conservative leaders, while their liberal counterparts watched the ever-so-precious world of political discourse shift sharply to the right.
Despite the fact that the College Republicans have far more funding, and by many estimates more involved students, than their progressive counterparts, conservatives still perpetuate the idea that the ultimate contrarian act for a college students is to be a conservative -- to stick it to those elitist, capitalism-loathing, preachy liberals.
As one student said in The Nation (Feb 13, 2006): “"The right actually ends up looking cooler than the left … I don't know how this is possible, but it's true!"
Liberals now seem to understand how the long-term strategy of the right –- providing funding, information, internships, and a forum for students to network and organize -- is one that they ought to adopt.
“In recent decades, the flowering of conservative political thought has been stimulated not just by changing public values, but also by strategic investment on the part of conservative foundations, think tanks and magazines. These investments, in turn, have helped to nurture a generation of conservative intellectuals, whose work now pervades newspaper opinion pages, magazines, congressional testimony, broadcast commentary, and public debate.”
And now, Campus Progress, the student outreach program sponsored by The Center for American Progress, a think-tank founded by President Clinton’s former chief-of staff John Podesta, has begun funding progressive publications –- more than 30 so far –- and holding conferences to start a unified progressive movement among college students.
This is the good news. At last the student left has some kind of support system, some funding, and some opportunities to organize.
While having the likes of George Soros open up the checkbook is a start, there are still political obstacles to overcome if Campus Progress wants student progressives to have a unified message.
This is difficult because much of the left is divided. There is the Center for American Progress. It is part of the Washington establisment and has little in common with much of the left, including those who call for a dramatic shift in our foreign policy, a withdrawal from Iraq, who oppose the relationship between US and Israel, who wish to campaign against Democrats who have neglected to protect progressive ideals, and who oppose the triangulation theory championed by centrists Democrats.