Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Making My Red State Blue

Over dinner tonight John and I decided that Indianapolis needs a liberal think tank to replace the conservative Hudson Institute, which moved to DC from here not too long ago. For those who don't know, conservatism is to Indiana what cocaine was to Bush in his 20s.

So what would be the point of a liberal think tank in a conservative state? Mostly democratic message/audience match up. When it comes to this, I think we can learn some things from the RNC. There are these conservative think tanks like Hudson or the Heritage Foundation and many others. By the way, the name Heritage Foundation always gives me the creeps. I flash back to those commercials in the 80s for Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Christian theme park, Heritage USA. When did the definition of the word "heritage" become homogenous monoculture?

Anyway, these con tanks are funded by large money. They create policy ideas, plans and directions, which can then be broken into bite-sized pieces for consumption by the public. They are not to be undersestimated in their value to the Republican party. I think they are a great idea.

Democrats don't have a similar situation because (1) the lib tanks that do exist (and there aren't many) are not as well funded as the con tanks and (2) liberal messages (and liberals for that matter) tend to focus more on bringing mutliple voices and prespectives into any issue, which makes it more difficult to deliver easily cut and dried messages (they are always in process).

Number 2 is the bigger problem in my mind. It is also our greatest asset. Con tanks typically hand down authoritative dictates and arguments for them--these are their desired products. And frankly, that is the way much of America prefers to be led. Democrats should learn ethical ways of dealing with that fact and lose the detached elitist image.

I'm sure con tanks (or their political partners) also spend time floating out versions of how their ideas are stated so that the public grasps them most readily. Lib tanks should probably recognize that the value placed on multiple perspectives is going to distinguish them from the con tank processes. So figuring out how to include the public's voice in "product development", rather than merely with later market research would be a good idea.

Enter Indiana, a state that frustrates me and wins my heart at the same time. What better place to start a liberal think tank, using a mixture of mid-American values and liberal processes (tightened up a bit for the sake of organization) in the crafting of policy? A lib tank here could shape its policies while involving the very cultural mix of folks they hope to reach in the process. There aren't too many reasons Indiana has to say, "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," but the phrase certainly applies in this case.

So, hello out there George Soros or some other risk-taking liberal philanthropist! Please take a trip to the Hoosier state and help the U.S. (and the world) get up out of this mess we are in now!


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