$70 Million For Your Thoughts

"You get huge leverage for your dollars," Roger Hertog told fellow wealthy donors at a recent national conference for right-wing think tanks including the Heritage Foundation and the Cato, Manhattan, and American Enterprise institutes. Hertog pointed out that a mere $70 million in donations has helped conservatives reframe the national debate on topics including antitrust law, Social Security privatization, welfare and affirmative action. Robert Kuttner, who attended the event as a "token liberal," was impressed by the right's realization that ideas matter in politics. "It has been a while since a progressive idea, per se, transformed politics," Kuttner writes. "A generation ago, activists in the streets were energized by books such as Betty Friedan's The Feminist Mystique, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed, and Mike Harrington's The Other America. These in turn transformed national policy. ... It was breathtaking to see the policy strategists of the other side preen for the edification of their steadfast funders -- the culmination of a 25-year strategic alliance between organized business, ideological conservatism, advocacy research, and the Republican Party. Hertog was right: $70 million a year is chump change to the American elite, but invested strategically in the battle of ideas, it yields a bountiful political harvest."