Friday, October 01, 2004

Philanthropy, Part II

Watching the "analysis" of last night's debate, I was again struck by how much craftier the Right is than the Left when it comes to philanthropy. As David Brock pointed out in his confession/expose "Blinded by the Right," it's simply easier to make a living as a conservative "analyst" than as a liberal one. Why? Because conservative philanthropists understand what they're investing in, and liberal philanthropists don't.

Liberal philanthropists want to give money once, see it used up, and see what they created outlive their actual support for it. Seed money. Sort of a deadbeat dad model, writ large. Create, then leave.

Conservative philanthropists understand that while the check might be made out to a particular "think tank," the think tank is a tool, not a goal. The goal is political power. They underwrite the ongoing operations of right-wing think tanks for decades on end, because they aren't the least bit concerned about creating dependency. They want power, and they understand that when you're in the business of politics, a certain amount of philanthropy is simply a cost of doing business. They get it.

That means that conservative think tanks don't have to spend all their time figuring out how to survive. They pay well, they move quickly, and they shift the terms of public debate. The liberal side is too busy staging fundraisers and churning out dreary social science to really hit back, so the center keeps moving farther and farther right.

Sadly, most higher ed philanthropists follow the 'seed money' model, with predictable consequences. If we had the same kind of philanthropy that, say, Richard Mellon Scaife provides for no end of conservative talking heads, we could stop chasing grants so much, and actually focus on the business at hand. Maybe we could even hire faculty!

Never underestimate the power of opposition research...