Where to start
by George Lakoff
.Publication date: 2004
Editor's Note: This feature
about what differentiates conservative from progressive foundations
is excerpted from Don't
think of an elephant (Chelsea Green, 2004)
Author George Lakoff, a founding senior fellow at the Rockridge
Institute, explores framing devices in political language
and examines structural problems that hamper democracy in the
Right-wing think tanks get large block grants and endowments.
Millions at a time. They are very well funded. The smallest effective
think tanks on the right have budgets of four to seven million
dollars a year. Those are the small operations. The large ones
have up to thirty million dollars a year.
Furthermore, they know that they are going to get the money the
next year, and the year after that. Remember, these are block
grants-no strings attached. Do what you need. Hire intellectuals.
Bring talent along. One of the think tanks is putting up a new
building. It is going to be an eight-story building with a state-of-the-art
media auditorium, and one hundred apartments for interns who cannot
afford apartments in Washington.
These institutions also build human capital for the future. The
interns and scholars are people who want to be there, who have
talents and abilities that may well make them important in their
fields. Through the think tanks, they get to know each other.
And the interns are building lifetime networks: They are likely
to know each other closely throughout their lives because they
lived together while they were interns. These are social networks
that will pay dividends for years and years. The conservatives
who built the think tanks are not dumb people.
There are very few grants like this from progressive foundations.
Progressive foundations spread the money around. They give twenty-five
thousand dollars here, maybe fifty thousand, maybe even a hundred
thousand. Sometimes it is a big grant. But recipients have to
do something different from what everyone else is doing because
the foundations see duplication as wasting money.
Not only that, but they are not block grants; the recipients
do not have full freedom to decide how to spend the money. And
it is certainly not appropriate to use it for career development
or infrastructure building or hiring intellectuals to think about
long-term as well as short-term or interrelated policies.
The emphasis is on providing direct services to the people who
need the services: grassroots funding, not infrastructure creation.
This is, for the most part, how progressive foundations work.
And because of that, the organizations they fund have to have
a very narrow focus. They have to have projects, not just areas
they work on. Activists and advocates are overworked and underpaid,
and they do not have time or energy to think about how they should
be linking up with other people. They mainly do not have the time
or training to think about framing their issues. The system forces
a narrow focus-and with it, isolation.
You ask, Why is it like this? There is a reason. There is a deep
reason, and it is a reason you should all think about. In the
right's hierarchy of moral values, the top value is preserving
and defending the moral system itself.
If that is your main goal, what do you do? You build infrastructure.
You buy up media in advance. You plan ahead. You do things like
give fellowships to right-wing law students to get them through
law school if they join the Federalist Society. And you get them
nice jobs after that. If you want to extend your worldview, it
is very smart to make sure that over the long haul you have the
people and the resources that you need.
On the left, the highest value is helping individuals who need
help. So if you are a foundation or you are setting up a foundation,
what makes you a good person? You help as many people as you can.
And the more public budgets get cut, the more people there are
who need help.
So you spread the money around to the grassroots organizations,
and therefore you do not have any money left for infrastructure
or talent development, and certainly not for intellectuals. Do
not waste a penny in duplicating efforts, because you have to
help more and more people. How do you show that you are a good,
moral person or foundation? By listing all the people you help;
the more the better.
And so you perpetuate a system that helps the right. In the process,
it also does help people. Certainly, it is not that people do
not need help. They do. But what has happened as budgets and taxes
get cut is that the right is privatizing the left. The right is
forcing the left to spend ever more private money on what the
government should be supporting.
There are many things that we can do about all this. Let's talk
about where to start.