After progressive victories across the nation on Election Day – with winning candidates at the federal, state, and local levels, and on issues ranging from the minimum wage to tax policy – two things are clear: the American public is much more receptive to progressive ideas than suggested by the media, and the conservative movement is in disarray.
So it was disappointing on November 17th to read the New York Times recycling of an old story written time and again about the power of rightwing think tanks: “Policy institutes have been central to a national organizing strategy that has long won the right a reputation for savvy, and state-level versions are growing in number and clout.”
Yes, it’s true, rightwing think tanks have been effective through their ideological discipline and ample resources. But the progressive community recognizes the importance of defining issues and advancing a policy agenda, too. There is now a network of savvy progressive think tanks working at the state level – and they are winning. So here’s a modest proposal: perhaps it’s time for the paper of record to create a beat on the progressive movement.
“The other side gets way too much credit,” says Michael Ettlinger, Director of the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN). “Basically they have one idea: lower taxes and eliminate government. People act like they’ve been able to take command of the American consciousness and that’s just not true.”
EARN has 47 groups in 36 states. The organization links local, state, and national groups that conduct research, develop and advocate for policy, mobilize public opinion and win state policy victories. EARN works on a range of issues, including minimum and living wages, workforce and economic development, Social Security, education, tax and budget, and health care. This year EARN is developing broad state-level economic agendas that will offer a well-crafted, well-framed, counterbalance to the “tax cuts are the answer to everything” policy of the right. (It has already generated such agendas in conjunction with the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York and the Bell Policy Center in Colorado.)
“I’ll stack our groups up against the rightwing think tanks in terms of effective communication and influence any day,” Ettlinger says. “We have to prove not only that government can work, but how it can work. And we do it well. You will hear legislators say they disagree with us, but our numbers are right. You won’t hear them say that about the right’s work–because the right is much more concerned about its mission than the truth.”
Tim McFeeley, Executive Director of the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), is optimistic about the progressive movement’s growing infrastructure as well. “People recognize the need for players at the state level – including funders,” McFeeley says. “We’re way behind – conservatives have a 20 year head start – but we’ve made progress in the last two years. We have the resources and talent to do it even better [than the right], we just need the focus and ongoing commitment.”