Magazine article The American Prospect

A Tipping Point? (Comment)

Magazine article The American Prospect

A Tipping Point? (Comment)

Article excerpt

MALCOLM GLADWELL has observed, in The Tipping Point, that trends sometimes build gradually but explode suddenly. As an editor of a liberal magazine, I wonder whether we are nearly at that point with the ascendance of conservatism.

For more than two decades conservative media organs, think tanks, foundations, political donors, and politically engaged corporations have gained strength while their liberal counterparts have been fighting a rearguard action. Conservative foundations are very explicit about what they are doing, while liberal ones are often hobbled by business-dominated boards and a reluctance to be explicitly political. The once-liberal press is centrist at best, and the new networks, like Fox, are resolutely right-wing. Our cover story is about yet another emerging right-wing media fiefdom.

Elsewhere in this issue, Geoff Nunberg's piece documents that the oft-repeated charge of liberal media bias is nonsense. And tabulations of the influence of think tanks usually reveal that right-wing and centrist outfits like American Enterprise Institute, Heritage, Cato, and Brookings top the charts, while the liberal Economic Policy Institute barely makes the top 10. As organized business becomes more explicitly ideological, right-wing idea factories rarely lack for funding.

On the media front, while The New York Times has a moderately liberal editorial page (and some terrific new columnists), The Wail Street Journal is there, day after day, not loftily contemplating the public good but engaging in strategic ideological trench warfare.

Nominally Democratic institutions, most notably the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), are part of this rightward continental drift. The DLC has been remarkably feckless as partisan challenger to George W. Bush. Just enough Democrats are in thrall to a corporate agenda to blunt the party as a useful opposition. Populist movements, like organized labor, do valiant work, but are outgunned.

All of this has caused the ideological center of gravity in America to shift steadily to the right, even though polls show most Americans remain fairly liberal on the policy particulars. That is, most Americans say they would pay higher taxes to support things like universal health insurance, high-quality child care, and prescription drugs for all. …

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