In last week's "New Republic," author Franklin Foer describes where young Republicans learn their talents and how the GOP Establishment supports the growth and training of its future leaders. This crowd has a good track record, producing the likes of Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Lee Atwater, Ralph Reed, and (yes) Jack Abramoff.
There are two lessons to take from Foer's article. First, the Republicans play the game ruthlessly while Democrats suffer from what one senior congressional aide calls "the good government instinct" that relies on good policies and not good politics to win elections. Second, the infrastructure that the Republicans have built to bring young GOPers into the top echelons of their party is unmatched by the Democrats. That puts the future of the left in as much jeopardy as it now suffers.
The article describes the nasty fight for the presidency of the College Republicans, a position that pays $75,000 a year and includes a budget of $17 million. Here are just a few excerpts from the article:
"Republicans learn how to fight hard against Democrats by practicing on one another first. 'There are no rules in a knife fight,' Grover Norquist instructed the young conventioneers in a speech."
"The [College Republicans] is the place where Republican strategists learn their craft and acquire their knack for making their Democratic opponents look like disorganized children."
"A few weeks after the [College Republicans] convention, I got in touch with the newly reelected president of College Democrats ... For his uncontested race, he said he raised $2,000--$198,000 less than [one CR candidate's] estimated take ... His salary is $75,000 lower than the one [the current president] receives--that is to say, nonexistent."
We know the Republicans are good operatives. What we on the left often forget is that our ideas, our fundraising, and our candidates are sometimes not enough when we have an infrastructure that sends us into Grover Norquist's knife fight with only our fists.
Part of the solution to this challenge is supporting Governor Dean's DNC and state parties as they increase their focus on infrastructure. Another part is to do what progressives do as well as conservatives -- take up the flag locally in one's neighborhood, at work, and at play.