It's important for the Right to be aware of what the Left is doing. Few, if any, on the Left are doing it better than the Center for American Progress...
[T]he Center for American Progress has become in just five years an intellectual wellspring for Democratic policy proposals, including many that are shaping the agenda of the new Obama administration.
Much as the Heritage Foundation provided intellectual heft for the Republican Party in the 1980s, CAP has been an incubator for liberal thought and helped build the platform that triumphed in the 2008 campaign. [...]
To help promote its ideas, CAP employs 11 full-time bloggers who contribute to two Web sites, ThinkProgress and the Wonk Room; others prepare daily feeds for radio stations. The center's policy briefings are standing-room only, packed with lobbyists, advocacy-group representatives and reporters looking for insights on where the Obama administration is headed. [...]
CAP, which has 180 staffers and a $27 million budget, devotes as much as half of its resources to promoting its ideas through blogs, events, publications and media outreach. [...]
Podesta modeled the center on the Heritage Foundation, which became the go-to policy-research organization in 1981 when newly elected President Ronald Reagan embraced its conservative ideas embodied in a book called ``Mandate for Leadership.'' Heritage was just seven years old. [...]
Podesta likes to say, ``we're not a think tank, we're an action tank,'' said Dan Weiss, an environmental activist who joined CAP last year.
This is important. The Center for American Progress has adapted and modernized some of the Right's best strategies and tactics. They have a conceptually superior understanding of how best to do what they are doing.
- They realized that information and ideas already existed, and action - the organization and application of information - was what the Left needed. So they created a Marketing Tank.
- They realized that a think tank was two different organizations - policy (501c3) and communications (501c4) - and those two organizations required structural separation to be most effective.
- They realized the Permanent Campaign was reality, so they built infrastructure to construct the permanent campaign outside of actual campaigns - to ensure the permanent campaign would be both permanent and ideological (rather than merely partisan).
- They realized the internet was their most effective channel - their killer app - so they prioritized the internet as a more effective means of communicating and mobilizing people around ideas, resulting in ideas that very quickly enter the bloodstream of policymakers, the media, influentials and activists. As John Podesta has said...
Address the issues—in real time. “When we got into this, conservatives had natural outlets on talk radio, Fox, etc. Progressives were weak at this. So we designed a suite of products—a daily e-mail, a blog, etc.—to engage with policy decisions every day.”
Get the long-term message out. “Traditional progressive research institutions devote about 5 percent of resources to outreach. We’re around 40 percent, and it’s paying off. In 2005 we put out a plan for affordable health care for everyone. Now all the Democratic presidential candidates are in favor of universal health coverage.”
Whatever you think of their agenda, it's difficult not to admire how smart the Center for American Progress has been about building an effective new machine that marries policy, communications and action. In a town that had grown comfortable and complacent about building new political infrastructure, the Center for American Progress helped produce a revolution.
There is much to learn from that.