Looking back, what do you think PRA’s most memorable impact was?
I think about this quite a bit and seem to return to three aspects of PRA’s work that I find as its greatest accomplishments.
The first is that PRA studied the Right as a movement, so that individuals and organizations existed in a framework of understanding. This reading of the Right made sense to both scholars and activists (and donors as well). It kept us away from simplistic solutions and too much simple conspiracism, while talking about how a movement does conspire and coordinate. And it made sense of the sub-movements and sectors that sometimes can contradict each other, but always exist under a coordinated big tent.
The second is that we avoided identification with the Democratic Party, and we have been able to maintain our independence to this day. That independence has been critical to our success and objectivity.
And finally, we put accuracy above all. That was a position motivated by principle, but also by the fact that we lived under constant threat of lawsuit and of challenge to our reliability. At PRA, if you don’t know the answer to the question, you are not allowed to make it up, and what you say always has to be backed by hard evidence.
What do you think is PRA’s role in the present moment?
There is a lot of coverage of the Right at this point – the Internet has made a huge difference and the public is now much more aware that the Right is a well-organized and well-financed movement. But there are gaps in media coverage and there are gaps in the coverage of those progressive issues under attack.
The greatest is the neglect of the attack on the poor. Welfare Reform is too widely accepted as a success and the effect of the recession (depression) in coverage by the mainstream media takes a back seat to coverage of the effect on the Middle Class.
In the area of attacks on issues, the Right is not hampered by issue silos. It can attack the rights of immigrants and reproductive rights simultaneously or the rights of low-income people and the rights of LGBT people simultaneously. Workers and liberal Christians – they are all the same fodder for the Right’s agenda.
Because PRA is multi-issue and its focus has the benefit of being in opposition to the Right as a movement, we are less tied to single issues and are able to see how the Right’s agenda impacts people across the board.
PRA can and does fill those gaps. You don’t subscribe to The Public Eye just to hear a compilation of what is being said by the New York Times and CNN, but for the hidden stories of success by the Right. These stories can be important, but to the extent they fly under the media radar, they do their damage unexamined. Kapya Kaoma’s work on how the Christian Right exports its social agenda is a perfect example.
What do you see for the future politically?
I see more of the same – the same money, the same techniques, though perhaps not the same issues. The anti-government theme is the agenda du jour because the social issues have lost momentum as a message for the Right.
The anti-government theme has further steam left in it, and I expect it will run for quite a while. It’s really a pro-business message (ironically, given that it’s the profit model that got us into our current economic mess), but it too will run its course. But I think that if the Affordable Care Act survives, people will have the experience they have had with other national programs such as social security and unemployment compensation that will cause them ultimately to support the program. But for now the Right’s libertarians are having their moment in the sun and they are far from finished with their popularity and recruitment of converts.
What will follow that as the Right’s next big theme? Perhaps a revival of Cold War themes, such as the penetration of an outside enemy (perhaps Islam this time) and the threat of foreign influence. Or the decline in Americanism – such as “standards,” patriotism, moral fiber, and manliness. Many of these themes are encoded racism, which will be a winning theme for the Right for years to come.
It’s hard to make predictions like this, and much will depend on how successful the Right is in altering the basic institutions of U.S. governance, such as the Supreme Court and the autonomy of the states. The Supreme Court is already tilted quite substantially to the right, and it in turn is expanding the role of states’ rights. Policy at the state level is historically more conservative than that at the national level and an increase in state autonomy bodes ill for the future of progressive issues.