March 10, 2007

Commonweal Institute And Building The Progressive Infrastructure

Four years ago, my friend, Dave Johnson, proprietor of Seeing the Forest, introduced me to Dr. Katherine Forrest who founded the Commonweal Institute along with her late husband, Leonard Salle. Kate and Len founded the Commonweal Institute after studying what the right wing movement had been doing to make the country receptive to their worldview, and they realized the need to be equally smart about building an progressive movement that could effectively move public attitudes so that progressive ideas and solutions could once more be heard and considered viable by the broader American public.

To understand the effectiveness of the conservative movement it behooves us to see where it all started. Back in 1971, Lewis Powell, shortly before he was named to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, realized that to move public opinion, conservatives would need a full set of tools to get their message in front of the public. The various conservative corporations, organizations and interest groups (including the fundamentalist Christians) saw that this could be very effective and agreed to work together to support this effort, pouring significant funds into helping get things started.

Do read the Powell memorandum to see how he proposed moving the country to a more conservative philosophy and what institutions and organizations would be required to do that. One surprising thing that I found in Powell's memo is that the original goal was simply to make sure the conservative side would have an equal voice with the dominant liberal consensus of the day. Yet the conservatives that built the movement were some of the most authoritarian true believers in our society and because they were unable to tolerate differences or dissent, they settled on a goal to destroy the enemy in their midst (liberals and progressives) who had been keeping them from dominating society. And they believed that all tactics, moral or not, would be used. Today it is common to hear conservatives express the idea that Democrats and progressives are traitors to the country and should be done away. Here's Rush Limbaugh's speech before the GOP House in 1994 on what should become of liberals in the United States:

Please, whatever you do, leave some liberals alive. I think we should have at least, on every college campus, one communist professor and two liberal professors, so we never forget who these people are and what they stand for.

So here we are today, in an society that is badly divided where one side has declared war on government and any who would stand in their way to total power. Yet, those of us to the left of center believe we must make our government work again for all of us because the problems we face are too big for any one person or even the different interest groups such as the environmental movement or the civil rights movement or the human rights community or unions to solve. We must have government helping and we all must be working together. We can no longer afford a single-issue focused approach to solving just "my" problem. Every one of these excellent organizations face a tremendous head-wind to even get their message out to the American public. It is almost de rigueur for the public to believe liberals and progressives don't have any ideas and the two political parties are both corrupt and out only for themselves. Candidates that want to talk about the plight of the poor are pilloried as being too "wussy" to even be listened to.

Even more the pity, it is almost impossible for progressive candidates or mainstream center-left representatives to support an idea so far out of the political mainstream as single payer healthcare despite the fact that our healthcare system has all but collapsed and single payer could be the best way out of the mess.

So what's to be done?

What Kate and Len proposed was that progressive and pragmatic citizens need to take a page out of Lewis Powell's memorandum and build a progressive infrastructure of think tanks, writers, researchers, television personalities, spokespeople, and so on, that can effectively compete with the right wing messaging machine. So they started the Commonweal Institute to:

  • provide research about what the conservative movement has been doing
  • build connections between various progressive organizations
  • provide marketing analysis about how words do work on the human psyche (partly to defuse the effect of the right wing Luntz-speak that appeals to the lizard brain and partly to help find words to engage the heart and the brain to move public attitude back to working on common problems with hope and a sense of community)
  • train people on how to talk with people who have been too busy to understand the stakes and who have been disillusioned by the cynical and corrupt use of our government by the conservative authoritarians who purposely fail at governing to sell the idea that government is your enemy (thus leaving everyone else to the whims of a Hobbesian world).

It is a daunting task Kate and Len undertook when they founded the Commonweal Institute. Yet, is it an inspiring and worthwhile goal on which to work these days.

And so I'm honored and ridiculously pleased to have been asked to become a Commonweal Institute Fellow, joining Dave, Chris Bowers, Bill Scher and Patrick O'Heffernan. I'll be blogging at the Commonweal Institute blog about such topics as human psychology and behavior, leadership, messaging and community. All in a hope that I can do my small part in helping move public attitudes to be more pragmatic, community-oriented and future-oriented in deciding what future we build for our country.

Posted by Mary at March 10, 2007 11:00 PM | Philosophy | Technorati links |

Congratulations Mary. The Institute has gained a great treasure.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden at March 11, 2007 01:29 PM

After capturing the hearts and minds of the socialist electorate, would Francois Bayrou be taking the role of Nicolas Sarkozy? A TNS-Sofres survey, carried out March 8 and 9 for the figaro (Barber), Radio Television Luxemburg and LCI, made the Minister of Interior Department fall concerning the first turn. Francois Bayrou gains four points to 23 %.

[ - ] to close

With the first turn, Nicolas Sarkozy remains atop, but his lead is diminished: with 27 % of the intentions of vote, he loses four points compared to the preceding survey of the same institute, February 28 and 1er March. Segolene Royale, remains stable, with 25,5 % of the intentions of vote. And the one gaining largely thru this fall of the UMP candidate seems 2b Francois Bayrou, with 23 % of intentions of vote in the first turn (+4,5 points). It is the first time since May 2006 a TNS-Sofres survey gives the UMP candidate such a score.

In case of a Royal-Sarkozy duel in the second turn, Nicolas Sarkozy is victorious with 52 % of the votes, but he loses two points compared to the preceding survey. Ségolène Royal gains two of them, to 48 %.

le PEN TO 12 %

The candidate of UMP also looses points concerning the winner desired. With the question "finally, which candidate do u you wish to see elected president of the Republic?" , 30 % of the questioned people answered Ségolène Royal (unchanged score), 28 % answer Nicolas Sarkozy (- 5 points).

The score of Jean-Marie the PEN remains the same at 12 % of the intentions of vote. The -wing candidates left of the Socialist party are still hard to discern: Domenica Voynet remains stable (1 %), Arlette Laguiller stagnates @ 2,5 % (+ 0,5 point), Marie-George Buffet loses 2 points to 1,5 % and, jose bove also to 1,5 %, loses 0,5 point. alone Olivier Besancenot seems to gain, to 4 % of intentions of vote, gaining a point compared to the preceding TNS-Sofres study. On the right, Philippe de Villiers stagnates at 1,5 % (+ 0,5 point) and Nicolas Dupont-Aignant is even below @ 0,5 %. the candidate of Hunting, fishes, natural and traditions (CPNT), Frederic Nihous, stagnates, him also, with a score lower than 0,5 % of the intentions of vote. 18 % of the questioned people did not express intentions of vote.

The same survey questions 4 the assumption of a first turn without Jean-Marie le PEN In the event of absence of the candidate of the national Front, Nicolas Sarkozy would b @ 30 % of intentions of vote in front of Ségolène Royal @ 26, 5% and Francois Bayrou @ 25 %. an absence which would benefit Philippe de Villiers only a little , credited with, in this case, 3 % of the intentions of vote.


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Inquire TNS Sofres realized March the 7, and 8 2007 @ a national sample of 1 000 people representative of the entire population 18 n older, questioned merely thru phone. Method of the quotas (sex, age, profession of the head of household GCV) and stratification by area and category of agglomeration.

Posted by: ccoaler at March 11, 2007 02:36 PM

Congratulations, Mary! They're making a great investment :)

Posted by: natasha at March 11, 2007 03:43 PM

I hope you have all viewed the Great Global Warming Swindle

Posted by: mags at March 11, 2007 06:53 PM