Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mutual Appreciation Societies

There are a few new examples of a phenomenon among conservatives in Wisconsin that are worth pointing out because both are indicative of a perceived "solution" to the problem of regaining power in Wisconsin.

The first is the creation of the MacIver Institute, a think tank in New Berlin. Any time I hear something described as a think tank I immediately ask myself "why?" Normally the answer is readily apparent, if not self-evident, but I'm not convinced that's the case with MacIver.

For starters, there is a reasonably successful think tank in the area, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, that is already responsible for producing much of the intellectual capital that comes from the state's conservatives. One would assume that if business is that good the WPRI would just mosey on over to the Bradley Foundation and ask for more money to expand ... instead we have the creation of an entirely new entitity independent of the old one.

Which is not unimportant beacuae it will be interesting to see how the organizations work with each other. Will they be competing for funding and staff or will they collude? Don't get wrong, I'm extremely appreciative of think tanks, but there's really no getting around the fact that they are vanity projects and notorious money pits -- and now really isn't a great time for someone to sink a ton of cash into something that's not going to returning any dividends.

I'm sure that as the MI matures it will evolve an identity of its own seperate from WPRI's -- an if the early signs are indication MacIver will be an unapologeticly conservative organization with little pretense to "non-partisanship." The place is named after an influential Republican operative. The man tapped to helm the ship is an old GOP aide from the capital that was most recently lobbying for the state's premier school choice org. They tapped Fred Dooley to run the company blog. These are folks with resumes long on activism and short on academics.

That doesn't mean they are incapable of coming up with new and original ideas, but one has to wonder how original ideas can be when they come from the guys who have been out selling the old one for most of their careers. Take the results of the first poll they commissioned: Wisconsinites don't like taxes. Dude, you just blew my mind ...

So until there's evidence to the contrary, it's probably a safe bet to assume that MacIver is just another way of banging the hyper-conservative drum that prevents the GOP from moderating itself. That may seem like an obvious assumption, but it's not just about promoting an agenda that is being rejected at the polls, its also about resisting reform efforts from within. If a reform-minded GOPer thinks that P is a good idea, but the institutional authority of the MacIver Institute says ~P is true, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which idea is going to fly and which one isn't. In this sense the mission of the MacIver Institute isn't to generate new ideas, its to stand like a praetorian guard over the old ones.

A far cruder example of this behavior is the Northeastern Wisconsin chapter of "Club Gitmo," which no one will be confusing for a think tank any time soon. Apparently this proposed group has something to do with Rush Limbaugh:
This is a call to arms to join the resistance to take back our government. We agree with the teachings, values and philosophy from our leader from the EIB southern command in Florida.
[I do find it amusing that when some people here the words "Palm Beach" they have a vision of NORAD rattling around in thier mind's eye.]

While Club Gitmo may be a far less organized "grassroots" effort (that apparently consists of little more than a bunch of guys, who can apparently join psuedononymously, wearing the same shirt at upcoming "Tea Parties") it essentially serves the same purpose: defend the old ideas. Presumably this is what Lance Burri meant when he observed that "conservatives were coming out of the woodwork" recently.

Which brings us to the Tea Parties themselves. It was kinda difficult to listen to conservatives go on about how successful they were. How many people who attended these events voted for Obama last fall? I haven't heard of one such person.

Right now, according to the only measure that really matters, last fall's election, conservatives are in the minority. That means they have to change minds if they want to win back the levers of government. Getting together with a bunch of like-minded folks is certainly fun, but unless the GOP starts reaching out to others it will continue to be in the minority. Republicans can create a think tank for every card-carrying member, establish a million Limbaugh fan clubs and start having high tea in front of every courthouse in America -- they're just going to be talking to themselves.

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