Organizing Groupthink
The Left applies lessons learned from gay-marriage victories to the next war.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)



Politico treated it the way we treat news stories nowadays, in our celebrity-driven culture in which a beloved actor’s suicide can drive front-page news for a whole week: “Media Matters’ David Brock expands empire,” it reported.

David Brock may not be exactly an A-lister, but he is one of a contemporary cluster of insiders who have changed the way the “mainstream media” game is played. Bias, once the offshoot of genteel groupthink, has become progressively, aggressively organized.

Under the old model, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which played a key role in bringing down Jack Abramoff and the once powerful GOP congressmen Tom DeLay and Bob Ney, felt the old-school need to burnish its credibility by targeting some Democrats alongside a majority-Republican target list. (CREW’s widely covered “Most Corrupt Members of Congress” lists included 25 Democrats among its 88 featured members since 2005.)

No more. Brock was elected chairman of the board after laying out a new aggressively partisan plan to transform CREW into what the Washington Examiner called a Democratic “lapdog.” From Politico:

The reconfigured CREW, which is searching for a new executive director, will add a more politically oriented arm, expand its focus into state politics and donor targeting and will operate in close coordination with Brock’s growing fleet of aggressive Democrat-backing nonprofits and super PACs — Media Matters, American Bridge and the American Independent Institute.

“CREW gives us some potentially powerful tools in the tool box,” said Brock, who founded his flagship organization Media Matters in 2004. “We have been in the accountability [business] for 10 years very successfully. It is kind of a one-stop-shop now.”

My ears pricked up, for these tactics sound a lot like what I saw on the front lines of the gay-marriage wars. I do not mean — sincerely do not mean — to deny the powerful impact that courageous and essentially kindly intelligent voices for gay rights from Andrew Sullivan to Jonathan Rauch have had on American public opinion over the last decade. Learning that gay people are people, not demons, has had a transformative impact on American culture.

But that cultural redefinition would be less extensively successful were these positive messages not backed by the power to punish and stigmatize those who disagree.

What I witnessed, firsthand, was how intelligent LGBT culture warriors used their access to powerful insider networks to effect social change by systematically raising the cost of speaking, organizing, and especially donating to political causes challenging the pro-gay-marriage view.

For cultural impact, politics is more important for conservatives than for liberals, because political voices are harder to control through insider networks — witness the powerful effect that electing Ronald Reagan had on a conservatives’ place in culture. We might still have been despised by insider elites, but we could not really be redefined as “outside the mainstream” by them if one of our own were in the White House. Without a politically effective component, pro-lifers would not be gaining the ground they are gaining culturally either.

So what is new in the last decade is the intelligent deployment of the Left’s insider elite networks to affect the willingness and capacity of conservatives to organize politically in ways that made their values visible.

They raised costs by denying Republicans like Minnesota governor Tom Emmer, who supported sending a marriage amendment to Minnesota voters, the small “perks” that officeholders in both parties usually receive (in his case, teaching at a prominent Minnesota business school) and by exposing petition-signers like Angela McGaskill to employer retribution.