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March 20, 2005

A Progressive Idea for CAP

Regular readers know how much I appreciate the Center for American Progress's work -- the tax plan, Think Progress, the Progress Report, Campus Progress, etc, all are excellent examples of what a progressive think tank should be doing. But the one thing a progressive think tank should not be doing is calling itself a progressive think tank. Head on over to CAP's homepage -- once you get past the campaign boilerplate in the banner ("progressive ideas for a strong, just and free America"), you immediately see the topmost (right) sidebar button, a bright orange box direction you to "Progressive Priorities". If you don't click on that, your eyeballs are fairly destined to settle on the facsimile of a Social Security card that rests in the middle of the page promising a "Progressive Guide to the Social Security Debate". Jeez, I wonder which side of the aisle they're on?

One lesson Republicans quickly learned was that you get farthest by couching ideology in empiricism, which is to say you get farthest by hiding ideology and pretending you reach conclusions sympathetic to conservatism solely through dispassionate analysis of the facts. The Heritage Foundation bills itself as "Policy Research and Analysis", while AEI simply references their 60-year history and calls themselves "one of America's largest and most respected 'think tanks'". That both are hotbeds for partisan extremists who use facts the way most of us use fingerpaint never mattered, their simple refusal to trumpet an affiliation, combined with a pliant press corps, allowed them to become a serious force in American politics.

CAP's work is too good to be boxed in as progressive. Because the aim, really, isn't to make the center respect the left, but to make the center become the left. And you don't do that by labeling yourself as just one of the partisan fleas sucking blood from the debate, you do it by marking your opinions as Truth and thus letting your progressive solutions exist as if God himself etched them on tablets and sent them down from the sky. So CAP's banner should read "Ideas for a strong, free and just America", their sidebar should tout "America's Priorities", the site's central feature should be "Your Guide to the Social Security Debate". I understand what CAP's trying to do and I appreciate their attempts to popularize the progressive label, but it's more important that they popularize progressive ideas. Since the media's idea of a fact-checking is to marginalize their sources by listing whatever partisan affiliation they find on the homepage, the two goals are, to some extent, mutually exclusive.

Sidenote: A few months ago I put up a post complaining that the Heritage and AEI site were giving Social Security privatization prominent play and tons of resources, with unsuspecting visitors drowning in a sea of calculators and dishonest reports while CAP featured, well, nothing. It's a nice metaphor for the genesis of the debate that privatization is now marginalized on the conservative sites while the liberal think-tanks have made it central to theirs. Advantage: Us.

March 20, 2005 in Democrats, Policy | Permalink

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Comments

Ezra, you're absolutely right about CAP. What's more, it's not as though they NEED to hide their partisan affiliation, by which I mean that real disinterested scholarship is amenable to progressive causes, whereas AEI and Heritage rely on fake, made up bullshit. CAP should just call itself "the think tank" and say outright that what they produce is knowledge whilst conservative so-called think tanks produce bullshit.

Posted by: Marshall | Mar 20, 2005 11:33:49 AM

Of course, Heritage also bills itself this way on their site:

Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute - a think tank - whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.
AEI doesn't use the "c" word but does bill itself as "dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of freedom--limited government, private enterprise, vital cultural and political institutions, and a strong foreign policy and national defense." Heritage in particular has never really managed to fool anybody into thinking it wasn't ideological -- its real achievement has simply been in radically advancing the cause of expertise pomo-ification; that's the upshot of blanketing congressional members with ready-made facts and figures on whatever issue is in the morning headlines and ensuring you've got a resident scholar available to provide two lines for every article on every issue under the sun.


But your point still stands.

Posted by: Sam Rosenfeld | Mar 20, 2005 2:32:10 PM

I think that the New America Foundation does this well.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 20, 2005 3:16:14 PM

Sam -- True on both counts. But that's fine, if CAP wants to pop "progressivism" into their statement of purpose, they should run wild. But they don't need to preface everything on the website with the word "progressive", it's inherently limiting, an acknowledgement that they're just one side of the debate rather than it's ending point. AEI and Heritage give themselves no such public handicap.

Praktike -- Word.

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