Intellectual infrastructure

INTELLECTUAL INFRASTRUCTURE…. About 10 years ago, one of the more common concerns on the left was the advantage conservatives had on infrastructure. The right had think tanks, activist groups, talk radio, a sophisticated direct-mail program, book publishers, and news outlets. Liberals would routinely ask, “Why don’t we have any of that?”

It’s striking to see how the tables have turned over the decade. Now, the right wants its own MoveOn.org, a conservative Media Matters, a right-wing version of “The Daily Show,” a conservative TPM enterprise, and to duplicate the success of the netroots. Just yesterday, Tucker Carlson said he wants to create a Huffington Post for the right. None other than disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R) acknowledged after last year’s election how impressed he is with “liberal infrastructure,” which he believes “dwarfs conservatism’s in size, scope, and sophistication,” and will be “setting and helping to impose the national agenda for the coming years.”

In an odd twist, Douglas Holtz-Eakin told CQ he’d even like to see a “Center for American Progress for the right.”

As John McCain’s top domestic and economic policy adviser during last year’s presidential campaign, Douglas Holtz-Eakin got a firsthand look at the broad problems the Republican Party now faces: a shrinking base, a narrowing appeal among different demographic groups and an inability — in his view — to generate fresh ideas or effectively sell the ones it has.

In the wake of another chastening set of GOP defeats at the polls, Holtz-Eakin is now setting out to address those problems head-on. He’s developing a proposal for a new think tank that he describes as a “Center for American Progress for the right” — a reference to the liberal think tank that has supplied staff and policy proposals to the Obama administration and developed new ways to market its ideas. […]

The irony, of course, is that the Center for American Progress itself was developed as a liberal answer to the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that has been a source of Republican policy ideas for decades. But Holtz-Eakin says established think tanks of the right, like Heritage and the American Enterprise Institute, were “not helpful” during the McCain campaign because they weren’t politically engaged or innovative in their media strategies.

There’s some value, I suppose, to conservatives rethinking their approach to the larger policy debate, beyond superficial “rebranding” efforts. But like Matt Yglesias, I think the idea of a CAP for the right is “pretty misguided.”

Holtz-Eakin acknowledges there are already powerful conservative think tanks. Indeed, their existence prompted the creation of the Center for American Progress in the first place. Why create yet another think tank for the right? I suspect the answer is that leading conservatives like Holtz-Eakin have noticed that outfits like Heritage and AEI are slow, narrowly focused, hopelessly confused, wedded to outdated ideas, lacking in creativity, and fundamentally unserious about public policy.

But that’s a flaw with modern conservatism, which has nothing to do with the number of think tanks the right manages to create. Holtz-Eakin seems to have noticed the problem. It’s his solution that needs work.