I want to thank everyone in the audience who has read and supported this blog. I am going to go ahead and suggest that if you enjoy this blog you consider supporting the Roosevelt Institute. The Roosevelt Institute has kindly supported me with a fellowship that makes this possible, and I’ll be with them going forward during an incredibly important year for the future of the country.
I think the Roosevelt Institute is a particularly interesting place as far as think tanks go because it is self-consciously designed to deal with the War of Ideas. There’s an interesting split with the way that liberal and conservative think tanks are structured and funded. Andy Rich, the recent outgoing President of the Roosevelt Institute and the intellectual force for how it was established, created a bit of a stir with the publication of his research on think tanks and their impact on policy. As Rich argued in the Spring, 2005 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, with his article “War of Ideas: Why mainstream and liberal foundations and the think tanks they support are losing in the war of ideas in American politics”:
My research suggests that while it is true that conservatives have been more effective than progressive funders, this is not because they spend more money. Nonconservative foundations – what might be labeled “middle of the road,” “mainline,” or “liberal foundations” – have devoted far more resources than conservatives to influencing thinking about public policy. This spending simply has not been as deliberate or effective. Conservative think tanks have quite successfully provided political leaders, journalists, and the public with concrete ideas about shrinking the role of the federal government, deregulation, and privatization…
To make matters more difficult, progressive think tanks have a hard time getting general organizational support. Foundations want to support projects – specific, well-defined, discreet projects…As James Piereson, executive director of the conservative John M. Olin Foundation, commented about his liberal counterparts: “The liberal foundations became too project oriented – they support projects but not institutions. They flip from project to project. … We, on the other hand, support institutions. We provide the infrastructure for institutions.”
Funders on the left appear to have a different view of the role of the researcher – and the role of the research organization – than those on the right. For many of the mainline foundations and the foundations that are more clearly progressive, the primary concern when it comes to funding think tanks is in funding rigorous research that strives to be neutral. For them, think tanks and policy institutes should be homes to the disinterested expert…
The comments of a research director of a new progressive think tank are even more pointed: “If you’re on the left, you have to go to the foundations and say you’re neutral, unbiased – not politicized. You’re certainly not liberal. If you’re ideological, they don’t want to support you. It’s frustrating – because, by contrast, if you’re on the right, the foundations will only fund you if you toe the ideological line, if you want to do battle for the conservative cause.”
Andy Rich designed the Roosevelt Institute to do battle for the liberal cause. In particular, we want to build a vision of liberalism out of the strong values of the New Deal and the Roosevelt administration, values and an approach to governance that has disappeared over the past 30 years. I don’t think this happens quickly. But in the Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Center we’ve put together a strong team quickly, making big impacts for a relatively brand new outfit, and I think we’ll have an even stronger impact going forward. Especially strong given that we’ll face yet another election cycle of debates and policy proposals that will take place within the parameters already established by conservative thinking – which gives us room to try and continue to change the debate. We have a new President, Felicia Wong, who will join us in March. We just moved into a new office that has space to host events, so more content in 2012.
I hope you’ll consider supporting the Roosevelt Institute with a tax-deductible gift. You can donate here, and be assured your funds will go to continuing the Roosevelt legacy and building a progressive vision for the country from all of us.