In 1973, when Richard Mellon Scaife and Joseph Coors kicked together some seed money to start the Heritage Foundation, the Democrats held the Senate and had a 50-seat majority in the House. As progressives are starting to understand, the funding, planning, and coordination of the conservative movement has led to tremendous success in elections and government policy. But another arena of ideological competition has gone largely beneath the radar. An asymmetric political war is raging at universities across the country, and once again conservatives are running circles around progressives.
The campus Left, which is still organized for the most part by students and community activists, increasingly finds itself facing off against seasoned conservative strategists. And while progressive student groups are mostly self-funded, by the mid-1990s roughly $20 million dollars were being pumped into the campus Right annually, according to People for the American Way.
That money and expertise are directed at four distinct goals: training conservative campus activists; supporting right-wing student publications; indoctrinating the next generation of culture warriors; and demonstrating the liberal academic "bias" that justifies many conservatives' reflexive anti-intellectualism.
In fact, liberal bias in the academy is a fiction based on the same sort of selective analysis used to "prove" bias in the media. While there are certainly plenty of liberal professors, never mentioned are inherently conservative departments like economics, right-leaning frats and student groups, the influence of campus ROTC or the fact that for every left-leaning Vassar or Oberlin there is an equally conservative Washington and Lee or BYU.
Unfortunately, many students buy into the myth. For a generation raised on the reactionary polemics of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, more intellectual brands of conservatism - those based on Hobbes, Hayek and Friedman - are often unrecognizable; they appear solidly centrist to today's backlash youth. And once you're convinced that the university is a virtual liberal re-education camp, then every slight and inconvenience of campus life becomes further proof of the malevolence of the Left. That fits nicely with Thomas Frank's claim that populist ideology isn't built from the ground up with ideas but is a "horizontal" argument - amounting to a never-ending laundry list of petty gripes and grievances.
Only now, more than thirty years after conservatives began planning and organizing for the long haul, are progressives attempting to do the same thing. But unless they bring that long-term vision to the campus wars, the next generation of conservatives will be even more dogmatic and uncompromising than the ones in power today, and they will have won plenty of converts along the way. That should come as a troubling thought to liberals of every generation.
Do read the whole article if you want more details on the right wing organizations that are targeting our college age young people. It's very troubling. And those of us who hope to see the progressive movement survive have really got to dig deep in our pockets and be part of the funding of efforts to reach those same young people.