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Creating a Democratic network to counter the right

by Deirdre Fulton

WEDNESDAY, July 28, 2004 -- This week, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe keeps telling us that the Democratic party is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was just two years ago when liberals lost control of Congress – and he’s right, in many ways. But while they might have regained momentum and message, liberals still lag behind conservatives in one truly crucial way: they lack the intricately honed conservative infrastructure that took 30 years to create. Using a network of media outlets, think tanks, and young-Republican grooming teams, the right-wing has been patient in spreading their agenda. Though many might think the conservative message is in-your-face, the truth may be that has only become that way now that it enjoys the comfort of a national safety net that keeps on growing.

Liberals must fight back with a system of their own, young progressives attending a session at the Marriott Copley Hotel agreed today. Energized by Joe Trippi, the man many consider the unofficial leader of this movement, a group of about 50 progressives networked, brainstormed, and strategized ways to catch up with Republicans and in turn, put the country back on their track. Their biggest tool, Trippi said, is the one he used to launch former Vermont Governor Howard Dean into the national spotlight and raise millions of dollars for his campaign. "There is only one hope for our democracy," he said, "and I mean this fervently. It’s you and the net."

He explained why: "If information is power, and the Internet is distributing information democratically to anyone who has the net…Then the Internet is not distributing information anymore, it’s distributing power." This theory, Trippi said, helped the Dean campaign "wreak havoc on the political institution." Likewise, it can help liberals fundraise, disseminate information, and take on what he called a "top-down" society where only a few who have information can make the decisions that affect everyone.

But it’s not going to be just the Internet, people said later on in smaller, breakout discussions. One group talked about grassroots organizing, another talked about PACs and fundraising. One group talked about cultivating young leaders at the local and state political levels, something they thought might be more easily achieved if there was a national network of recruiters or talent scouts who could go to community groups in search of fresh progressive faces.

Slowly, Democrats are beginning to catch on. Now there is Air America Radio to counter Rush Limbaugh (though it remains to be seen whether the nascent network can survive), the Center for American Progress (a liberal think-tank headed by former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta) to balance the conservative Heritage Foundation, and the Center for Progressive Leadership, a farm team that trains the next generation of liberal leaders much like the conservative Leadership Institute has been doing for years.

There’s also David Brock, a former right-winger and author of Blinded by the Right, an exposé on the ways in which conservatives – including Brock himself -- attempted to destroy Bill Clinton’s presidency. Brock recently created Media Matters for America ( to monitor and analyze conservative media, then correct any misinformation. Speaking to the crowd, Brock warned that in today’s media-driven society, an article published in the conservative Washington Times reaches a far bigger audience than just D.C. readers. Limbaugh will read it on the radio, the Drudge Report will publish it on its website, and Bill O’Reilly will talk about it on TV, Brock said – and with all that exposure, someone needs to tell the other side.

Since 1969, conservatives have energized their base with "liberal bias" claims against the press, he said. But "fear of becoming like them is not an excuse for not acting."

"There’s never going to be a liberal Rush Limbaugh," Brock assured the crowd. "Because there is never going to be someone that goes on the radio and tells bald-faced lies."

Issue Date: July 28, 2004
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