Democrats and the progressive groups that support them have for years looked with envy at the political infrastructure built by conservatives. What they saw was a disciplined apparatus of foundations, think tanks, media outlets and advocacy groups working together to advance a right-wing agenda.
Now, liberal groups have developed a whole new infrastructure of their own — call it the vast, left-wing conspiracy.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) did a lot to inspire Democrats to create institutions to match the right's clout.
Remember when she accused a "vast, right-wing conspiracy" of attacking her husband during the Monica Lewinsky scandal?
Years later, she was still talking about it.
At a meeting of liberal activists in 2004, Sen. Clinton described the power of the right. "It didn't happen by accident," Clinton said. "It happened because people with a very particular point of view — they didn't like labor unions, they didn't like civil rights, they didn't like women's rights — they came together, literally, starting 50 years ago. They created think tanks. They invested in endowed professorships. They set up other media outlets. And so, they very slowly, but surely, tried to change American politics. And you've got to give them credit. They've done a good job."
At around the same time, Clinton was making that speech a Democratic activist named Simon Rosenberg was traveling around the country showing wealthy liberal donors a PowerPoint presentation called " The Conservative Message Machines Money Matrix" — a schematic look at how the conservative movement functioned from the Heritage Foundation to the National Rifle Association.
"I think, whether it is a conspiracy or just good organization, what's remarkable is that the conservatives really invested and built something very powerful to advance their agenda," Rosenberg said. "And now we've woken up and started to use some of the same tactics and tools that they used to build our own version of that."
In the past four years, dozens of new, progressive think tanks, media watchdog groups, publications and grass-roots organizations have been created to amplify the Democrats' message, and, perhaps, more importantly, oppose the policies of the Bush administration.
Conservatives still dominate talk radio — Rush Limbaugh reaches 15 million people a week. But progressives appear to have an edge on the Internet, maybe because Democrats are more comfortable with the anarchic quality of the Web than Republicans.
The Web sites of Democratic candidates and causes get hundreds of thousands more visitors than their conservative counterparts.
In addition to raising a substantial amount of money, liberal loggers have become a powerful constituency inside the Democratic Party. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) consults with them regularly just as he would with leaders of labor unions or civil rights groups.
The liberal blogs helped defeat pro-war Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in the 2006 Democratic primary last year. They kept alive the story about the U.S. attorney firings. They helped push the controversy over former Sen. George Allen (R-VA) using a racial slur, and they pushed the Democrats to pull out of debates moderated by Fox News.
The liberal blogs also helped push Democrats in Congress to be more confrontational and partisan in their dealings with the White House.
So, the Democrats don't just have an unpopular war and an unpopular president working to their political advantage. They also have a new, robust infrastructure to disseminate their message. And it is unified, well-funded and determined.